Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is closed as part of Penn State’s efforts to maintain public health and safety in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. For questions about cancellations, program changes, or virtual delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic, please contact us at For the latest updates and information, visit:


Thinking about AURORA?

There’s a lot to consider — especially with us going online! Read through our frequently asked questions to give yourself a better sense of the new, virtual AURORA. Still have questions? Contact us! We can’t wait to hear from you!

Why AURORA? What would I gain? What’s a GHW credit?

We know transition can be difficult, so we’re here to help. Our program sets you up for success at Penn State by offering you the opportunity to meet other students while challenging yourself and bolstering your self-esteem through a unique experience! Who knows, maybe you’ll even develop a lifelong passion for the outdoors. And, hey, tell your folks that participation in an outdoor orientation program like AURORA directly correlates with a higher student retention rate!

A GHW credit is a General Health and Wellness Credit — you need 3 of them to graduate. AURORA will give you all 3. Yup, we fulfill an entire Gen Ed requirement!

AURORA went online?

Yup, all of our programming — even our LEAP expeditions — has gone online!

All right, how can you turn a social backpacking expedition into a virtual class?

Dang, that’s a good question. Fortunately, it’s 2020 and we are basically living in the future. We have the resources to provide virtual hikes — all across the United States! And we will use tools like video conference calls to replicate the group dynamic that’s so important to what we do. Our mission to ease your transition is more important than ever in our quickly changing world, and we will use all tools available to us to deliver those world-famous AURORA outcomes: a sense of belonging at Penn State; insight into college from the leadership and facilitation of upperclassmen; strong connections with other new students; and an improved sense of personal wellness.

What’s happening to ORION, POLARIS, etc.?

With the transition, we are bringing together all programs under the unified banner of “AURORA” — everyone will have the same online experience. However, we will maintain distinctions between your campus and status (freshman/transfer or change-of-campus) to help foster the most impactful connections.

Now as an online experience, your arrangements for travel, arrivals at airports, etc., are no longer necessary.

If you have already registered for a specific program, your registration is now for the virtual AURORA — nice!

If you have yet to register, please follow the prompt on our registration page.

Virtually hike across the United States?

We are taking advantage of high-quality, point-of-view hiking videos to give you the experience of hiking all over this country. Have you ever hiked down into the Grand Canyon? How about along the Oregon coast? Now you can explore all the places you’ve wanted to!

I’ll get 3 GHW credits from a virtual “hiking” class?

As a 3-credit course, AURORA has a few requirements. You will complete virtual hikes, watch “camp-craft” lesson videos, and engage in real outdoor experiences — of course, all of them come with a short assignment. Additionally, you will engage with group members and leaders via interactive video clips and Zoom discussions. Positive participation during all components is required, as is providing timely, insightful responses to questions and prompts. A few additional course assignments and meeting times will be given.

Outdoor experiences? Can you explain more?

We know that AURORA participants have varying levels of access to the great outdoors. We also know that our current situation may further limit access to nature. With that in mind, we have planned activities with a wide range of acceptable approaches. Whether you explore your yard, take a walk around the block, visit the park, or even hit up a secluded trail, you will be able to participate in what we have planned.

Oof, the outdoors! I’m not experienced!

Don’t worry; this is an introduction to the outdoors! A majority of our participants have little to no previous outdoor experience. Our main goals are to provide a unique social experience and to promote personal well-being. Find comfort in knowing that people from all walks of life have completed, and enjoyed, AURORA. Our outdoor components focus on engaging with the world around you and maintaining a healthy physical and mental lifestyle.

How big are the groups? I want to be with a friend!

Hundreds of incoming students will participate in AURORA this year, divided into separate groups of ten students. With a balanced representation of gender, each group brings together as many diverse backgrounds as possible. Each group is then led by two upperclassmen leaders.

Key concepts of AURORA are respect, teamwork, and camaraderie. Placing two friends in the same group can disrupt commonality among everyone and be detrimental to the group’s progression. Many realize they would not have learned, grown, and enjoyed AURORA as much if they had gone with friends. Trust us — you’ll have more fun this way.

What’s up with the leaders?

Like all of us, AURORA leaders come from a diverse background. Some are Penn State alums or grad students. Many are current undergrad students, studying across various majors such as agriculture, theater, marketing, engineering, and so on. Some are past participants who enjoyed AURORA so much that they wanted to offer others a similar experience! What all leaders have in common is an appreciation for the outdoors and a great deal of experience in both technical and personal aspects of leading and facilitation.

A unique aspect of AURORA is that leaders act as facilitators, rather than guides. Leaders ensure that all voices are heard and that the decisions made are mentally and emotionally healthy for the group. By empowering the group, leaders help participants make the experience their own.

What do I need?

Other than a positive attitude and the willingness to have engage in fun discussion, the most important thing is consistent access to internet and a reliable device, like a phone, tablet, or computer. You will also want comfortable, supportive footwear and a small backpack for some outdoor experiences.

After registration, you’ll receive an Essential Information Packet (EIP) filled with important information such as a full list of required and recommended items. As a Penn State course, all drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and weapons are prohibited from use during AURORA.

I don’t have internet access or a reliable device!

Should this apply to you, we strongly encourage you to log in to the IT service portal. Fill out the Penn State Mobile Technology Request Form or call 814-865-4357 to formalize your computer/access request prior to the start of the semester. Penn State IT is continually working on the availability and distribution of equipment. Information about your request can be provided via the phone numbers in the request form. Once you receive equipment, you will be able to contact the IT Service Desk for 24/7 support. 

What’s the deal with cellphone use?

Since we’re using technology for our class meetings, camp-craft education, and virtual hikes, you very well may be using your phone for significant portions of class. Though, like any class, usage of your phone in a manner that does not support or engage the class will be prohibited.

I thought I read something about a class fee…

You did! Our marketing materials mentioned a class fee that is associated with our traditional program model. However, due to the transition to an online format, students will not be charged an additional class fee for AURORA this year. Virtual AURORA has NO class fee (oh yeah!), but students will still be charged the related tuition costs associated with a 3-credit course.

What if I have to cancel?

If you must cancel, please do so by email at Please cancel in a timely manner so others may take your spot.

Didn’t I hear something about early move-in?

We’ve enjoyed a special partnership with the housing assignment office — a partnership that allows University Park AURORA participants to move into their dorms prior to starting the program. For more details and to pursue this process, please contact the housing assignment office directly. 

AURORA is part of Shaver’s Creek! What’s that?

Penn State founded Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in 1976 as an outdoor classroom for students to get hands-on experience teaching in — and about — the natural world. Since then, it has expanded to offer more than 30 credit courses a year, including courses on environmental interpretation, adventure and leadership, and us — AURORA!

Opportunities at Shaver’s Creek go well beyond the classroom. Shaver’s Creek is open to the public seven days a week from mid-February through mid-December, free of admission. Students can enjoy miles of hiking trails through Penn State’s 7,000-acre Stone Valley Forest or enjoy seeing the Visitor Center’s resident birds of prey, reptiles, and amphibians.

Students can get involved in other ways at Shaver’s Creek by volunteering to help with animal care, educational programs, festivals, and other areas, or even earn income through a Penn State work-study position. Look around the website to learn more!

What other supportive communities do you recommend?

We recommend the Wellness Community that Housing offers through their Special Living Options! Join and you’ll live and learn with like-minded peers from different walks of life. Take advantage of this unique community by participating in an active and engaging living environment that focuses on a holistic approach to wellness, student success and well-being, and the pursuit of life-long health. You’ll have opportunities to pursue outdoor recreation, intramural sports, mindfulness activities, community service, and free Wellness Services from the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness.

As proud affiliates of this Special Living Option, participation in AURORA is a great way to get an early start on the Wellness Community experience.