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Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout is a saying that Neishja Ransom ’17 has taken to heart.

After spending nine years with the Girl Scouts in her youth, Ransom is now a leader in the organization, overseeing the Girl Scouts of Greater New York’s Urban Day Camp.

In her role as the program coordinator, she was recently tasked with launching the GSGNY’s new Outdoor Leadership Experience, a program that provides wilderness training for high school girls in New York City and culminates with a five-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in New York state. Every Monday, she meets with 11 Girl Scouts to cover topics ranging from an introduction to backpacking and water safety to wilderness first aid and navigational skills—all things that she learned as a student in SUNY Potsdam’s wilderness education program.

“Everything I learned applies to what I’m doing now. I’m able to teach these girls using my experience because they’re all from NYC and I’m from NYC, and they’re Girl Scouts and I was a Girl Scout—there’s a lot of overlap there,” Ransom said.

She ended up modeling the new curriculum on the wilderness education courses she took with Adam Wheeler, SUNY Potsdam’s wilderness education program instructor. “He gave me access to some of his resources from the wilderness education program, and I used them to build the curriculum,” she said. “Adam is the best! He was like a second dad to me. I went to him for so many things, and I worked closely with him because I participated in both the adventure and leadership tracks. Anything I needed, anytime I was struggling, I could call him up and talk to him,” she said.

“I love how far away SUNY Potsdam is from the city. I feel like time kind of slows down a little bit—you can take a second to breathe.”

Neishja Ransom '17 and Nick Gripp '17 carry a tree stump out of the woods following a day of trail work with other students in SUNY Potsdam's wilderness education program in the fall of 2016.

Neishja Ransom photoAfter growing up in East Harlem, Ransom never expected to be bushwhacking through the Adirondacks or dangling from rock climbing walls, but that all changed when she came to SUNY Potsdam. The wilderness education program provided her with skills ranging from wilderness first aid and rock climbing to leadership in the backcountry.  “It really was transformational. It’s like a little family. You take the same courses together, you go on these trips together and just spend a lot of time together,” she said.

Her most impactful experience was during a 16-day backpacking trip in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness region of the Adirondacks. Her group was tasked with bushwhacking off-trail and ascending mountainous peaks deep in the woods. “It was very challenging, but you learn about yourself as a leader and team member. You get to see how everybody reacts under pressure,” she said.

One of those tense moments occurred when her group got lost after poorly navigating through the woods. She still remembers the words of Wheeler after their misadventure. “He gave us some sage advice that I just love. He said, ‘Know what you know, and know what you don’t know.’ I love that because it’s basically telling yourself that you need to acknowledge when you don’t know things and you need to be OK with that and be able to ask for help,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Ransom was also busy completing her major in speech communication—another discipline that helped pave the way for her career with the Girl Scouts. She took Principles of Speech, Rhetoric of the Black Church and Survey of Human Communication with Dr. John Youngblood. She also worked as his teaching assistant for two of his classes. “Dr. Youngblood was the reason that I declared speech communication as my major,” she said.

Those communication classes came in handy during her first full-time job as a recruiter for the Girl Scouts. “We did a million speeches in our communication classes at SUNY Potsdam and I got comfortable with public speaking because of all of those opportunities,” she said. “I started Girl Scout troops all over Manhattan. It was my job to go to schools and churches and try to recruit volunteers to start troops. A lot of that came with giving presentations about why Girl Scouts is a beneficial program.”

When she graduated from SUNY Potsdam, she had no idea that her wilderness education training would have such a profound impact on her career, especially in NYC. “I thought, ‘This was a fun thing that I did in college. It helped me grow and gave me a lot of life lessons, but that’s all it will be.’ Then I got this job with the Girl Scouts, and I was like, ‘Look at that, look at how that worked out!’” she said.

For more information about the wilderness education program, visit:
https://www.potsdam.edu/wildernessEd

For more information about the Department of English and Communication, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/engl

Article by Jason Hunter