AEE eNews Update November 24, 2009
Rita Yerkes, President, Yerkes Consulting LLC
An Interview with Rita Yerkes by Kirsten Kindt
37th Annual International AEE Conference)
AEE: Briefly describe your role as an experiential educator/practitioner.
Rita: After I retired in 2008 as Dean Emeritus – School of Experiential Leadership at George Williams College of Aurora University, I began receiving phone calls from people needing assistance. Using my years of experience I offer assistance to business, education, organized camping and recreation services who serve others. That is how Yerkes Consulting LLC developed.
I work with organizations to build collaborative teams, facilitate organizational change and planning, conduct organizational outcomes assessment plans and instrumentation, and give presentations at organizational conferences.
I believe that program directors and staff should consistently evaluate themselves by answering the question: “Are we doing what we say we are doing? If the answer is yes; celebrate and keep improving. If the answer is no; identify what is needed to achieve the program’s mission and goals and keep moving forward.
AEE: What excites you about experiential education?
Rita: Experiential education is a dynamic methodology that can reach people where they are and take them to new heights of discovery as an individual and as a group. One of the greatest successes that an experiential educator can have is to enable others to discover for themselves their best practices. In order to find success, people are invited to be challenged and they connect with themselves and each other in the process. I have been part of so many experiences where this has occurred over my career and I continue to be amazed at the possibilities and outcomes.
AEE: How did you get involved in Experiential Education?
Rita: As a young child I always learned best by doing. My first professional experience was as a counselor at Camp Kysoc for differently-abled children and adults as a sophomore in high school. Those summers introduced me to what would later become my vocation.
I believe that no one gets somewhere by themselves. I was blessed with wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my career. And I was also been blessed with exceptional students and colleagues by having the opportunity to collaborate with them.
I have been a member of AEE since 1980 and I have attended every international AEE conference since then and regional conferences as well. They have provided me such rich experiences interacting with and learning from colleagues. It was so exciting to be with other professionals that were doing similar work and searching for best practices.
AEE: What do you consider to be the most valuable benefit of AEE membership?
Rita: AEE provides a forum to share with other professionals using experiential education methodology. Benefits that have meant the most to me are: attending educational sessions at conferences, networking and making life-long friends, and serving with those who serve others.
AEE: What are some of the contributions you have made to AEE?
Rita: I was fortunate to play a part in the development of the Women’s Professional Group. Its inception impacted the entire association and has continued for more than 20 years. Women had a limited voice in the association before that time. The WPG introduced a forum for women to empower each other and our male colleagues. A small group came together with an idea and did what we had to do to create change. And it was a major change. The Women’s Professional Group represented a turning point in the health of the organization by making an effort to invite minorities to participate. The WPG became a model for other kindred groups and it has been exciting to see others creating supportive growth experiences together. It created a more inclusive AEE.
I was also privileged to assist in the AEE accreditation program development. Members were surveyed and they showed a strong interest in professionalizing experiential education and the development of standards for adventure education practice. I credit Betty van der Smissen and Reb Gregg who contributed to the industry’s awareness of legal liability. They along with others led us forward.
At the onset, we were told there is no way we can do accreditation. The accreditation process involved so many different organizations on the accreditation task force such as PA, NOLS, Outward Bound, and corporate training members all of whom combined to give leadership and seed money toward the effort. Making it happen was incredible and to see that the standards are now recognized by the industry is very satisfying. Being a catalyst for change requires involvement of the membership working with the board together to create an exciting process which can lead to major changes.
AEE membership services and program accreditation have made this a distinctive organization. I am particularly excited about the changes coming in accreditation that will make the process much more doable. It is a process started in the late 80s and is ever-changing.
AEE: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Experiential Education right now?
Rita: We have done a good job sharing with each other what experiential education can do for an individual and group process. Our biggest challenge is making the general public more aware of how valuable this methodology is to their children’s learning and their own. Our world needs more experiential education and facilitators now than ever before. Our challenges are to keep learning ourselves, keep developing through shared experience and research and convey our message to other groups and government agencies concerned with people, group development and our society.
We need to continue to be creative and innovative and at same time track with data what and how we are doing. Larger audiences need to hear more about the impact experiential education has on learning - the good and great with an emphasis on factual data.
Contact Rita at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Chih-Mou Jamal Hsieh, Taipei, Taiwan
Submitted by Tiffany Wynn on behalf of Chih-Mou Hseih from Taiwan English Magazine
A keen outdoorsman, HSIEH Chin-Mou has climbed to the summits of numerous mountains. But life hasn’t always been full of high points for Hsieh. He’s certainly experienced and learned from his share of low points as well.
Growing from his past
Growing up in a violent home put Hsieh on the path toward a lfe of crime. Getting into fights with people and into trouble had become a habit for him. After stealing a stranger’s motorcycle, he was arrested and put in a detention center. Three days after being released, he failed his second year of high school. This low point was a life changing wake-up call for Hsieh. He realized he was becoming someone he didn’t want to be.
So, Hsieh decided to turn his life around by finishing high school, college and a master’s degree program. Combining his interests in psychology and outdoor recreation, he went on to complete a Ph.D. in experiential education and adventure therapy at Indiana University. After becoming a Christian in graduate school, he determined to use his life to serve people.
Persevering through medical challenges
During the next eight years, Hsieh finished his Ph.D. and took groups of at-risk youth on outdoor wilderness trips. Then in 2006, a serious heart attack permanently damaged his heart. Consequently, his weakened heart now supplies only 55 to 60 percent of the total oxygen that a healthy heart pumps.
Only four months after heart surgery, he led a group of university students on a sea kayaking trip in Alaska. For Hsieh, falling into the near freezing Alaskan water with his heart condition would almost certainly be fatal. Two weeks in such dangerous waters taught him and his group lessons about overcoming fear with courage and faith.
Hsieh accepted an even greater challenge in the Himalayas the following summer. The oxygen poor air at great heights causes a person’s heart to work extra hard. Hence, climbing mountains is especially risky for people with heart disease. Until that summer, no one with Hsieh’s heart condition had ascended above 4,500 m. By climbing the 6,189m Island Peak, he set a new record for altitude among people with his heart condition.
Adventures with a purpose
The constant possibility that his next day could be his last has been a powerful force in Hsieh’s life. Certain that living for himself would be a waste of time, he spends his life serving others.
Hsieh loves helping Taiwan’s youth who are at risk. Having been in their shoes, he is able to help young people who face violence as well as behavior and drug problems.
Hsieh currently teaches at National Taiwan Sport University. Each year, his students plan, organize and lead an overseas adventure trip that somehow meets people’s needs. For example, the 2006 Alaskan adventure was a way to raise money for an at-risk youth program in Taiwan.
In 2007 and 2009, after climbing in the Himalayas, Hsieh’s students completed several projects for a Sherpa community school. And in 2008, after conquering the 5,895-m Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, his class built restrooms for a nearby school. In addition, they initiated a community-wide soccer program.
Hsieh’s example helps others to discover the adventure and satisfaction of living generously.