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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Off the grid: Wilskills encourages students to explore nature

Learn about Wilskills, the club that has fostered nature-communion among Commodores for almost 50 years.
Christin Ann Sanchez
Graphic depicting students enjoying themselves in nature. (Hustler Multimedia/Christin Ann Sanchez)

Life at Vanderbilt is fast-paced, and the demands of academic rigor leave little to no time to experience the beauty of nature. Yet, unknown to many, there is a way to escape this academic bubble — if only temporarily — and experience something unique: Wilskills. 

Wilskills is an entirely student-run club whose activities encompass group outings, overnight trips in nature and educational lectures on techniques essential to wilderness survival. The club hosts weekly weekend and day trips off-campus where students can get acquainted with the wilderness. Wilskills’ former Principal Coordinator, William Bell (‘23), explains how offering a weekend respite from academic pressures has become the club’s top priority. 

“It’s been a great way to meet new people,” Bell said. 

According to Bell, Wilskills originated from and is the remaining component of Vanderbilt’s former outdoor education program established on May 21, 1975, thanks to $3,500 from the Provost’s Contingency Fund. Per Bell, the club prides itself on providing inclusive outdoor adventures to students from all skill levels. Wilskills’ instructors are students in charge of holding lectures throughout the semester, coordinating trips and ensuring that the gear provided to participants is in proper working order. As the semester goes on, students further develop the four specific skills that the particular semester is focused on, which include white-water canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing and caving. There’s also one guest lecture per semester, such as a presentation by Vanderbilt students Ashley Helms and Bryce Keating on the flora and fauna of the Southeast last spring. 

The club, which refers to its members as “skillets,” typically has three to four student instructors chaperoning groups of up to 20 per excursion. According to Bell, Wilskills places a strong emphasis on safety and encourages members to explore and grow their abilities in a secure environment. All trips organized by Wilskills are open to all Vanderbilt students to guarantee accessibility for everyone, regardless of attendance at lectures or membership in the club. 

“We really try to emphasize that one doesn’t need significant experience to go on a trip with us,”  Bell said. “So, the biggest challenge, although exciting, would be not knowing everyone who will come on the trip until they sign up.”

Senior Sophia Lindsay, a transfer student from American University, joined Wilskills to continue her hobby of wilderness exploration, which she began during the gap year she took from college after one year of online learning at Vanderbilt. Having spent time backpacking in Europe and Argentine Patagonia, Lindsay wanted to continue spending time with nature even as she resumed her academic journey. She expressed her gratitude for the community that Wilskills has provided for her. Furthermore, in just a few months, Wilskills enabled her to journey through multiple states in the Southeast region including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky.

“I craved the sense of community and adventure, which had never been hard to find on my travels,” Lindsay said in a message to The Hustler. “We have the privilege of beautiful and remote wilderness and genuine people, and no matter the time of year or weather, there is always something we can do outside, whether that be caving when it’s cold or padding when it’s sweltering.

Lindsay’s experience with the welcoming nature of the club inspired her to become a student instructor at Wilskills. 

“At my first meeting, I met friendly faces who asked me about myself and my experiences and immediately made me feel included in our lectures,” Lindsay said. “By my first trip, paddling on the Hiwassee River, I knew that I wanted to be around this adventurous group of individuals and become an instructor.”

Bell expressed his optimism for the future of the club, as members continue to raise awareness about the group on campus. However, he also recognized that financial barriers can prevent some students from participating in trips regularly. He stated that one of Wilskills’ goals is to make trips more accessible to all students. The cost for weekend two-day trips is $40, while day trips cost $5. Bell attributed the ability to maintain the price to Wilskills’ eligibility for Experience Vanderbilt (EV) funding, which has been in effect since 2017. Experience Vanderbilt can also be applied to trip payments provided that one meets the EV criteria.

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About the Contributor
Anseley Philippe
Anseley Philippe, Staff Writer and Photographer
Anseley Philippe ('25) is a potential biomedical engineering and Spanish double-major who aspires to be an immunologist. Outside of The Hustler, he can be found queuing up at 2301, wandering around campus during his evening promenades or trying to keep up with his Spanish. He can be reached at [email protected].
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1 year ago

One of my few regrets of college is not having been more involved with Wilskills. It’s a great club, take advantage of it!!