Urban Service Experience

A five-day urban backpacking and community service experience in Philadelphia for first-year students starting their Penn State experience at the University Park campus.

Ursa Major — one of the most recognized constellations in the sky — never sinks below the horizon, providing a constant bearing to the North Star. The URSA Urban Service Experience will provide you with the direction to start your journey at Penn State. Since 2000, this Penn State student orientation program — held in Philadelphia — has provided incoming first-year students with an opportunity to participate in and urban backpacking experience and community service projects, while making friendships that will ease the transition from home to college. Earn all 3 of your GHW credits as you “hike” through the city and work side-by-side with other incoming Penn State students.  The participants will learn about the benefits of serving a community and become more aware of the needs of those appreciating their service.

What Are the Goals of URSA?

URSA is designed to provide you with the opportunity to:

  • Engage in fun, physically challenging outdoor and service experiences
  • Understand backpacking as a lifelong physical activity
  • Gain perspective and understanding through service
  • See firsthand the effects of service projects on the community and its members
  • Learn how nutrition needs differ in a backpacking setting and discuss meal strategies
  • 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 your surrounding community
  • Set goals for your first year at Penn State

What Activities Are Included in URSA?

Four days of hiking and community service in Philadelphia:

  • Explore the city on foot when when “hiking” between service and sleep sites.
  • Participate in active outdoor service work in Philadelphia’s green spaces.
  • Make a difference in the lives of community members through service.
  • Get involved with a community revitalization projects.
  • Explore Philadelphia’s cultural and historical offerings, including murals, the Rocky Steps, the USS Olympia, and the Philadelphia Zoo.
  • Enjoy a genuine Philly cheesesteak.


What Are the Course Requirements for URSA?

Because URSA 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.

URSA students pose on the Fairmount Park steps

Where Will You Be Sleeping?

You will sleeping at various sites across the city.  Sites may vary, but they are often associated with locations where service will be done, or they are of cultural or historical significance.  All sites are indoors and have access to bathroom facilities.

How Much Does It Cost?

If you are enrolled as a full-time student for fall semester, there is no additional tuition fee. There is a  $255 class fee that will be billed directly to your student account.  This fee covers program equipment, backpacking gear (sleeping bag, backpack, etc.), and food for the program.  If you need to cancel, please do so by email at ursa@outreach.psu.edu.  If you cancel on or after June 1, you will be charged a cancellation fee of $225.

Where Will You Meet Your Group for URSA Fall?

Arrival Registration starts at 4:00pm at the Chamounix Mansion Youth Hostel in Philadelphia, PA on your travel day of your URSA week. We will have a welcome meeting at 6:15pm. Please bring everything you will need for the trip—there will be leaders at the hostel to meet you. Please do not be late. If you drive on your own to Philadelphia instead of being dropped off, you will not be permitted to drive your car during the week of the course. Parking is available at the hostel for your car — but at your own risk.

The URSA Urban Service Experience program is modeled after the award-winning ORION program — a wilderness orientation program for incoming students that has been running successfully since 1996.

Register for URSA now!

Registration is closed, check back in 2019!

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

URSA Group

Register for URSA now!

URSA 2019 Session:

URSA Fall Week:
Travel Day: August 18, 2019
Expedition: August 19–23, 2019

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

“URSA was a week of growth for me socially as well as personally. I met people that I am great friends with, and I had the opportunity to give back to the community.”
— URSA Participant


Penn State Early Move-in for AURORA participants:
Contact your housing office, appointments available after August 13:

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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