Growing up near the mountains in Poland, San Jacinto College English professor Izabela Uscinski has always felt a calling to the outdoors.
So when the North Campus Great Outdoors Club needed a faculty advisor in 2018, Uscinski jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to get involved because I love the outdoors, but I also wanted to offer our students the opportunity to experience the effects of being surrounded by nature,” she said. “It’s a great way for students to meet others with similar interests and get to know us, the professors.”
In 2016, government professor Cody Pogue and geology professor Dr. Liana Boop founded the club to introduce students to backpacking and camping in rural environments. Boop and Pogue wanted to create opportunities for students to travel outside Houston and discover new landscapes while helping them develop survival skills in unfamiliar surroundings.
Most recently, the group has hiked in the local forests like Sam Houston National Park and Lake Houston Wilderness Park and camped overnight at Garner State Park in Concan, Texas.
Uscinski recommends that all students, regardless of their experience with hiking and camping, give the club a try.
“We are always looking to add new members, and students can join at any time. Students are sometimes intimidated by the idea of going hiking, but there is no requirement to have any special skills. If anything, I’d love for students who had never hiked before to try it out and see if they like it.”
Omar Perez, the Great Outdoors Club president, values the friendships he’s made throughout the club’s adventures.
“Every single trip with the Great Outdoors Club has made a lasting impression on me,” said Perez. “It’s a great bonding experience, and you get to connect well with everyone.”
Most memorable for Perez was a hike he took with the club shortly after breaking his foot.
“We had been planning the hike for months, and I knew everyone – including me – was looking forward to going on the trip. I got a bit discouraged and depressed thinking I wouldn’t be able to go,” he said. “I got the green light from my doctor, but I was still hesitant. Professor Uscinski and every single member of the club literally helped me up that mountain. I felt so supported, and I knew I belonged there.”