Outdoors Program Under Threat

New OPERS director to end Experiential Leadership Program

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Illustration by Darin Connolly

Since its founding in 2009, the Experiential Leadership Program (ELP) at UC Santa Cruz has cultivated student leaders through courses and programs. Now, campus administration is moving to end the decade-old program.

In hopes of saving their beloved program, ELP director Miranda Allen, students and staff are attempting to raise awareness of the program’s proposed fate. One such student is past ELP participant and fourth-year student Sheyla Wypack.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important that class was for me, and how gifted Miranda is at bringing people closer to each other,” Wypack said in an email. “After practicing self-awareness and soul searching, I uncovered my true calling and I know I am going to graduate and do great things with my life.”

On March 6, campus human resources notified Allen of the decision — made by director of Athletics and Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) Susan Harriman — to eliminate the program. Harriman, appointed in January, cited budget concerns as the motivating factor in her decision to eliminate the program but did not respond to requests for further comment.

HR informed Allen that June 16 is a tentative end date. She has yet to receive a formal written notice.

Through Allen’s directorship, ELP inspires 1,300 student participants to be influential leaders every year. 

“[ELP] meets so many of the goals outlined in the strategic plan for UCSC […],” Allen said. “People leave these programs having shifted their mindset from student to professional, from being participants to having the capability to influence and impact as a person does with a leadership mindset.”

ELP facilitates this growth through workshops, like the spring 2019 cooking series, trainings and adventure trips. Past trips brought students to Monterey Bay and the Sierra Nevada mountains. ELP also offers five two-unit courses through Stevenson College, emphasizing different aspects of leadership.

The curricula of the five ELP courses focus on developing a leadership mindset by gaining skills and tools for building and being part of strong teams and communities. 

Former ELP participant and fourth-year student Roslyn Axtell detailed the lessons she learned during a day hike with the program. 

“I got to practice how to transform a surface-level conversation into a deeper one by searching for commonalities,” Axtell said in an email. “This has already helped me strengthen existing relationships in my life as well as form new ones.”

Justin Cummings, vice mayor of Santa Cruz and director of the UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, worked with other Doris Duke scholars and UCSC staff to write petitions and gather signatures to support keeping ELP funded and running.

“[ELP] provides exceptional professional development training for our scholars and has become a core component of our first summer training,” Cummings said. “[…] The program and its leader, Miranda Allen, serve students, faculty and staff across divisions and colleges in ways no other campus program is equipped to. ELP is part of UCSC’s strong tradition of experiential learning and preparation to lead.”

Students share this sentiment and are disappointed to see the program go, reflecting on the value of the course and the need to keep it.

“This [program] has given me greater knowledge, confidence and introduced me to a wonderful circle of people,” said former ELP participant Roslyn Axtell in an email. “It is such a shame this series is being defunded, because it teaches invaluable life skills I likely wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.” 


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