West Coast Wilderness

A wilderness orientation program on the west coast for first-year Penn State students starting their Penn State experience at University Park campus

Vega — the brightest star in the constellation Lyra — is the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, glowing blue and white. It is highly likely that the VEGA Wilderness Orientation Experience will be the brightest start to your career at Penn State. Begin either a coastal journey of hiking along wild coastlines, camping on beaches and exploring old growth forests of the Olympic Peninsula, or choose the mountain adventure where you will hike past streams and hear birds chirping as you experience the breathtaking view of Mount Olympus—while learning about college life, forming lasting friendships, enjoying breathtaking views, and earning all 3 of your required GHW credits.


VEGA takes place in Olympic National Park, Washington. Students will meet their group leaders at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where they will embark on five days and five nights of a coastal or alpine mountain wilderness expedition. This trip culminates with a morning of sea kayaking.

VEGA students watching the ocean

What Are the Goals of VEGA?

VEGA 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 Is VEGA All About?

Upon arriving at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to meet up with your leaders and the other students participating in VEGA, you will set up camp for the night, get to know your fellow classmates, and learn about the expedition that awaits. Your incredible journey in the Olympic Wilderness will begin as you hike approximately six miles to your first campsite, where you will learn Leave No Trace backpacking and camping ethics. In the following days, you will explore waterfalls, creeks, coastal or mountain features, and see picturesque views while talking about student life at Penn State. Before the week is over, you’ll enjoy a day of sea kayaking and a delicious cookout! On the final day, you’ll say your good-byes before boarding your plane back — but it won’t be long until you’re reunited on campus for many more spectacular adventures at Penn State.

VEGA written in the sand on the beach

How Do I Prepare for VEGA?

  • Bring a positive attitude and be willing to try new things.
  • Physically prepare yourself — you will be hiking as many as eight miles through sand and up hills each day with a loaded pack.
  • Be open to meeting new people — you’ll likely be making friendships that will last a lifetime.
  • Bring all personal gear and clothing from the gear list outlined in your Essential Information Packet (which may be found under “Related Links” on the right sidebar).

*VEGA 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 VEGA?

Because VEGA 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.

VEGA Group

Where Does My Week of VEGA Start?

Once you receive your Essential Information Packet, please read it thoroughly for information about booking your travel arrangements.

You are responsible for making your own travel arrangements for your VEGA week. It is extremely important that you book your flight to arrive during the designated times outlined in your Essential Information Packet.  You will be given detailed instructions on where to meet your leaders and other VEGA students at the airport.  Below is a link to the Travel Itinerary form that you must enter your travel information into once you have booked.

VEGA Travel Form

VEGA Group

Important Notes:

  • A Essential Information Packet will be sent via email to confirm your acceptance into the program.
  • KINES 89 – Student Wilderness Experience will be listed on your course schedule; DO NOT drop this class or you will lose your space in VEGA.
  • All students participating in VEGA must be registered as full-time students at Penn State University Park campus in the semester you take VEGA.
  • The 3 credits from VEGA meet all three of the 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 Wilderness Experience in the White Mountains of New England, or the award-winning ORION Wilderness Experience program. Check them out and find the right program for you!

Register for VEGA now!

Registration is closed, check back in 2019!

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

VEGA participants posing for a photo

Register for VEGA now!

VEGA 2019 sessions (choose one):

VEGA Fall Week 1:
Travel Day: August 11, 2019
Expedition: August 12–16, 2019

VEGA Fall Week 2:
Travel Day: August 18, 2019
Expedition: August 19–23, 2019

AURORA contact information:

Jen Emigh
Director of AURORA
Phone: 814-865-3890

Drew Lehnerd
AURORA Assistant Director
Phone: 814-865-3880

Shaver's Creek Environmental Center
The Pennsylvania State University

Fax: 814-865-2706

“Spending a week exploring one of America’s most beautiful national parks will jump-start your semester and build friendships that will far outlast this exciting trip.”
— VEGA Leader


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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