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The Simpson University Experience - Anni Graham

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"With such close community and so many experiences together, you get to know your professors, and they really get to know you. They know my fears, my dreams, my strengths and weaknesses and have come alongside me and encouraged and empowered me."

— Anni Graham, outdoor leadership major, class of 2016

Due to the high cost of college, Annalisa “Anni” Graham delayed attending college after graduating from high school in order to travel and volunteer. However, after learning about Simpson University’s Outdoor Leadership program, she decided to give the four-year university a chance.

“I’ve always preferred an 'experience' over a classroom environment, and Simpson’s Outdoor Leadership program is very focused on hands-on-experience,” she said. “I decided this would be much more valuable than any other program I had ever seen.”

According to Anni, an alumna (’16) from Pasadena, Calif., the Outdoor Leadership program’s experience education model is one of the aspects that make the program unique.

“What you’re learning, you’re also doing,” she said. “You’re in the classroom learning how to write papers and research, but you’re also getting the outdoor experience first-hand. You’re being faced with risk, and your learning how to deal with things as they come. It’s not just theory; it’s straight-up application.”

Another important feature of the Outdoor Leadership program is Simpson’s location in Redding, Calif.

“There are lots of places – national parks, recreation parks, state parks, lakes, and the coast – that are just a day’s drive from Simpson’s campus,” she said. “Whether it’s river kayaking, snowshoeing, mountaineering, or backing, everything seems to be in this area.”

One of the things Anni said she enjoyed most about being a student in the Outdoor Leadership program is the sense of community within the major.

“You progress through each year together, learning together, processing together, and having really hard times together,” she said. “It’s such a transformative experience to learn together. The accountability that comes from community to really push yourself and do the best that you can is unlike anything I have in my other classes.”

Anni has also appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with her professors.

“With such close community and so many experiences together, you get to know your professors, and they really get to know you,” she said. “I feel that my professors know me very well. They know my fears, my dreams, my strengths and weaknesses and have come alongside me and encouraged and empowered me.”

During the summer between her junior and senior years, Anni traveled to a part of Kenya that had been destroyed by desertification. She worked with a non-profit organization and lived and worked on a farm where they grew their own food, ate completely vegan, had zero waste, recycled and composted, and trained the local villagers how to conserve water and grow their own trees.

“It was a life-changing experience,” she said. “It was the first time I had been part of a long-term project that was using long-term strategies to solve a huge problem, and the people really respected them for it.”

Even though she does not plan on being an outdoor professional, Anni believes the Outdoor Leadership program has prepared her to continue pursuing her storytelling and photography business.

“I feel much more responsible, aware, and intentional about everything – how I spend my time, how I treat others, the environment, how to be a better follower or a better leader, how to write, how to research, how to work in a group, how to facilitate experiential learning,” she said. “The experience I had at Simpson definitely prepared me with the confidence and self-awareness that I will need for the rest of my life.”

Anni was also able to apply what she learned in the classroom to her personal life. She credits what she learned in her risk management course with helping her say ‘yes’ when fellow Outdoor Leadership student Richard Bailey asked her out.

“He asked me out a week after we had spent the afternoon swimming and going off the ropes swing at Whiskeytown,” she said. “I still felt like I didn’t really know him, but we had just taken a Risk Management course, so in my head I was telling myself, ‘you can’t live life without taking risks … so go for it.’”

Anni and Richard got married in July 2016 on Black Sands Beach on the Lost Coast.

Based on her positive experience, Anni said she would recommend Simpson to others.

“You will be challenged, but it will be up to you to choose whether or not you want to be developed into a better person,” she said. “The professors go above and beyond, and it is a truly unique experience to be here as a student here.”

In order to offset the cost of college, Anni received several scholarships and said she is grateful for the support from donors that enabled her to attend Simpson for four years.

“The amount of money it takes to go to college was one of the huge reasons why I put it off for so long,” she said. “The scholarships I received were a big deal for me because they definitely influenced my decision to go to college and finish college because I felt like I could do it. School became affordable.”

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