Wilderness Experience

A wilderness orientation program for incoming first-year Penn State students


Orion, one of the most prominent constellations in the northeastern sky, contains some of the brightest stars in the heavens and acts as a guide for travelers and adventurers. Similarly, the ORION Wilderness Experience is designed to guide incoming Penn State students as they embark on their university adventure. Earn all 3 of your GHW credits as you develop bonds with each other and the natural community.

Depending on which Penn State campus you have been admitted to, we have an ORION session for you! Scroll down for info on ORION for Non-University Park campuses.

What Are the Goals of ORION?

ORION is designed to provide you with the opportunity to:

  • Engage in fun, physically challenging outdoor experiences
  • Understand backpacking as a lifelong physical activity
  • Learn how nutrition needs differ in a backpacking setting and discuss meal strategies when living in the elements
  • Meet other incoming students and make new friends
  • Foster your personal wellness, increase your confidence, and bolster your self-esteem
  • Increase your appreciation and care for the natural environment
  • Learn outdoor skills that focus on the “Leave No Trace” outdoor living ethics
  • Set goals for your first year at Penn State

What Activities Are Included in ORION?

  • Five days and four nights of backpacking through the rugged, beautiful terrain of central Pennsylvania
  • A follow-up community service project
  • On campus meetings to reconnect with your group & learn more about life at Penn State

A group of backpackers on an ORION trip

How Do I Prepare for ORION?

  • Bring a positive attitude and be willing to try new things.
  • Physically prepare yourself — you will be hiking on variable terrain between two and ten miles each day with a loaded backpack.
  • Bring personal gear and appropriate clothing.* (See Essential Information Packet.)

*ORION will provide all group gear, including tents/tarps, stoves, and cookware. Backpacks, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads will also be provided.

What Are the Course Requirements for ORION?

Because ORION is a 3-credit, Penn State course (KINES 89), there are specific requirements to fulfill. You must participate in a positive manner during the entire trip, while also keeping a creative and insightful journal.  Additionally, you are required to complete post-trip assignments and attend meetings during the fall semester.  More detailed descriptions of these assignments and meetings can be found in the course syllabus

ORION for Non-University Park Students

A special summer section of ORION is available for students starting their Penn State experience at Non-UP campuses. ORION will be added to your summer schedule and billed as summer tuition at the University Park rate.

If you’re a part-time student you can still take ORION! You will be billed for this class on a per-credit basis, so you only have to take 3 credits.

No pre-approval is required for this program. University Park summer classes are available to Non-UP students without pre-approval.


A group from the 2011 ORION trip poses for a photo

Important Notes:

  • An Essential Information Packet will be sent via email to confirm your acceptance into the program.
  • KINES 089, Wilderness Experience will be listed on your course schedule; DO NOT drop this class or you will lose your space in ORION.
  • All students participating in a fall session of ORION must be registered as full-time students at University Park campus. Students in the summer session (non-University Park students) do not need to be enrolled full-time, and will be charged tuition per credit, based on current University Park summer tuition rates and Pennsylvania state residency.
  • The 3 credits from ORION meet all of the three Penn State General Health & Wellness requirements (GHW).

Students in this program will have the opportunity to register for RPTM 397, a first-year seminar offered exclusively for AURORA participants. For more information and/or to register for this course, call 814-863-2000.

Students may prefer to attend one of our other programs, the URSA Urban Service Experience program in Philadelphia, the POLARIS North Woods Wilderness experience, or the VEGA West Coast Wilderness experience, all of which are modeled after the ORION program.  Check them out and see what program is right for you!


Registration is closed, check back in 2019!

Still have questions about ORION? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more!

A group photo from the 2011 ORION class

Thanks to Appalachian Outdoors for their generous support of the ORION program.


Registration is closed, check back in 2019!

ORION 2018 sessions:

ORION Pride reserved for LEAP:
July 30-August 3, 2018

ORION for Penn State campuses other than UP:
August 4–9, 2018

ORION Fall Week (UP):
August 13–17, 2018

AURORA contact information:

Jen Emigh
Director of AURORA
Phone: 814-865-3890
Email: jen.emigh@psu.edu

Drew Lehnerd
AURORA Assistant Director
Phone: 814-865-3927
Email: dlehnerd@psu.edu

Shaver's Creek Environmental Center
The Pennsylvania State University

Fax: 814-865-2706

“Now almost an entire month into college, I can say with utmost certainty that no other program, class, or experience helped me more with the transition to college life than ORION did.”
~ 2009 ORION Participant


Penn State Early Move-in for AURORA participants: 
Contact your housing office, appointments available after August 5:

East Halls—814-865-1791
North Halls—814-865-9521
Pollock Halls—814-865-4321
South Halls—814-865-2391
West Halls—814-865-9526.
Please read this FAQ entry for more information.

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