Everyone has always told you that college will be the best four years of your life; a peak in your early 20s that will never compare to another portion of your life.
But what will you see looking back?
A series of skipped classes, more free pizza than you ever thought imaginable, and a GPA that has a direct correlation to your average BAC?
Perhaps not for some students at Castleton State College. Through courses within the Adventure Recreation minor, adjunct professor Steve Lulek strives to provide students with experiences that test their limits and develop their self-worth further than any rigid classroom environment or Scorpion Bowl Weekend.
“Steve always says that anyone who takes mountaineering you can tell because it changes them, and he’s right,” said senior and adventure recreation minor Stanti Schonbachler
A retired senior non commission officer of the military and former teacher of a military mountaineering school, Lulek traveled the globe developing his skills. But he says it wasn’t just his background that allowed him to see the world primarily from a bird’s eye view.
“I teach about perseverance and commitment and I try to model that,” he said. “The mountain doesn’t care about your resume. The cold doesn’t care about your resume.”
After 22 years in the military, this Central Vermont native was called home to the Green Mountains to fulfill high aspirations,
“I was kind of a youth of risk,” Lulek said. “I developed a passion at a young age and wanted to grow up and bring this back to the community.”
And that he did. With climbing gyms in Rutland and Quechee, Lulek also owns the area’s top-rated guide service, Vermont Adventure Tours. Additionally, he has been a part of the Castleton community for the past 13 years extending his knowledge and exposing students to phenomenon of the world that surrounds campus.
The opportunities presented paired with his teaching style and extensive background have made Lulek’s classes appealing to those across a variety of social and academic interests.
“I have a lot of regard and respect for Steve. He brings a lot of positive energy to everything,” Schonbachler said.
In particular, the winter mountaineering course has drawn the interest of backwoods Vermonters and out-of-state city dwellers alike. The course serves to teach the proper use of equipment and the fundamental skills of rock climbing, ice climbing and camping. Three excursions to Birdseye Mountain, Smugglers Notch Mountain, and Mount Washington test these newly acquired skills.
“Every trip we went on I was rocking a 65 pound pack,” Schonbachler said.
Originally from Wallingford, Vt. Schonbachler began climbing with his brother, Daniel, at a young age.
“You grow up around all these mountains. You look up and you’re like ‘I wonder what’s up there? I wonder what’s on the other side?” he said.
Despite his base skills prior to taking the winter mountaineering course, Schonbachler credits Lulek with refining his abilities.
“You have so much more confidence. And it calms you down having Steve with you,” said Schonbachler.
From the rock climbing to ice climbs and below freezing temperatures while camping, Lulek endures the elements alongside his students.
“I don’t ask anything of them I can’t do myself and model,” he said. “Every course I’m right there leading the way. They’ve just got to follow me”
Along with feeding his fervor for the outdoors, Lulek said he enjoys witnessing the sense of self-fulfillment that washes over his students with each trip.
“They’re all so special. The continual thing that sticks out almost all the time is to see that kids faces when they accomplish something,” he said. “People love to be challenged. People love the reward.”
For junior and Nutley, N.J. native Josh Budzinski, the challenges and rewards he has experienced thus far have exceeded his expectations.
“I would have never seen myself doing that,” he said of his first climb up Birdseye Mountain.
As an exercise science major, Budzinski is enlisted in Lulek’s course strictly for the recreational experience.
“I’m just trying to take advantage of the area that I’m in,” he said.
According to Budzinski, the portion of the trip the class climbed tied together as a rope team stuck out in his mind as a moment of individual and group growth.
“You need to build trust pretty quickly. If you fall you have to trust that someone else is going to catch you,” he said.
Lulek said group activities like the rope climb add to the strength of the class and build cohesion within the group.
“All 10 of them were attached to the rope that was attached to me,” he said. “It’s like real life. Real stress. They had to support each other.”
Overcoming these moments of adversity together are trials that are unmatched by any classroom environment.
“They go through it as a team and they need each other. These bonds they’ve created are for a life time,” said Lulek.