The Wilderness Program allows students to bond through shared experience in rugged and remote backcountry terrain. Adventure and connection to the environment creates space for sharing discoveries, developing new skills, and cultivating a sense of mutual accountability.

By building personal awareness and responsibility, students are challenged to take on new roles and develop their talents in youth leadership.

When graduates reflect on their experiences at UWC-USA, the Wilderness Program often plays a central part in their memories as something that challenged them and brought them together, forced them to deepen their knowledge of themselves and of each other, and helped them develop stronger, more confident voices as leaders and mentors to their peers.

“My fondest memory is being awakened by a bunch of warm-hearted, world-trotting friends on my birthday while witnessing our last sunrise at the unforgettable Grand Canyon. I couldn't have asked for more from a single week that embodied what UWC is all about: forging everlasting cross-cultural bonds.” —Brais Louro Larino ‘05

Wilderness Fellow

The Wilderness Program at UWC-USA invites applications for our Fall 2018 Fellowship Program, which will bring recent graduates or those starting out in a career in outdoor education to the UWC-USA campus in Montezuma, New Mexico.  Fellows will gain experience working directly with the wilderness program co-directors in logistical planning, risk management analysis, and trip leading. Fellows will share from their areas of expertise both formally and informally, and work with students in small groups. For an application and more information on the Wilderness Fellow position, click here.

Wilderness Components

All students participate in a minimum of two overnight wilderness trips. In addition to backpacking, students may choose to take part in winter camping, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. All students learn day-hike basics as well as wilderness first aid and CPR. Students can opt to take a Wilderness First Aid certification course. Student wilderness leaders take part in extensive expeditions that include off-trail navigation using a map and compass, camp-skills, backcountry baking, hazard awareness and risk management, judgment and decision-making, team-building, communication, self-awareness, and leadership skills.

First Semester

During orientation week, all new first-year students participate in backpacking trips led by second-year students. Additionally, they attend the Wilderness Program one afternoon a week to learn basic skills in wilderness first aid, hiking and navigation, communication, leadership, and familiarity with local ecology. During Southwest Studies, students have the opportunity to go on a backpacking expedition in the Grand Canyon for up to five days.

Second Semester

Students who choose to remain in the Wilderness program after completing their first semester receive more in-depth training in wilderness medicine, and can then participate in a 10- to 14-day leadership expedition in the spring. These expeditions are led by adult wilderness educators and guides who are experienced at creating supportive environments to help students find their own unique leadership style. On these trips, students travel into remote areas to hone skills in technical areas such as camp-craft, risk management, and navigation. More importantly, they are challenged to develop as leaders, building increased communication skills, self-reliance, and self-awareness.

Third Semester

Students who elect to continue in the Wilderness Program will lead several wilderness trips and mentor first-year students in first aid and related skills. They may also become "gear masters" for the program as part of their campus-based service. Gear masters help manage gear check-outs and check-ins for trips as well as trip preparation.

Fourth Semester

Wilderness students participate in a capstone trek: a backpacking trip designed to challenge their skills and offer time to reflect on the transition from UWC-USA and ways in which they will take their wilderness learning, their school experiences, and the UWC mission with them as they move into the next phase of their lives. They will continue to lead trips for first-year students and learn about planning personal trips independently.

A Student's Perspective: Wilderness & the UWC Mission

by Adrian Moore ’14, UK/France 

I suppose, because they aren’t directly involved in community service, people don’t often connect wilderness excursions with the UWC mission. It’s true that to most people, it just seems like a bunch of very lucky international teenagers walking off and hiding in a forest somewhere. It may be hard for someone on the outside to find a tangible change that comes with a wilderness trip. I, however, see wilderness as a total transformative experience which changes the way we think and act, helping us to truly bring some of UWC’s ideals in a more physical form than most people could ever imagine. This is shown in three ways:

  1. When in the wilderness, your only concern in survival. Eating, sleeping and keeping warm are your primary goals, and it doesn’t matter who you are with. Whatever the race, religion, ethnicity or culture of your teammates, they have the same exact basic needs as you, and this becomes incredibly clear in the wilderness.

  2. You learn that true happiness comes from helping others. Whether it be setting up your teammates’ tents and sleeping bags, or watching them enjoy a good meal you cooked, the pride and happiness you feel just seeing them smile is incomparable.

  3. You make parallels between life and simple actions. I have discovered that the UWC mission is, in many ways, a lot like climbing a mesa. When you look up at it from the ground, it looks unachievable. Impossible. And yet, you soon find that the process itself is very basic: just putting one foot in front of another. That’s all it takes – to just put one foot in front of the other, and repeat the process for as long as it takes to reach the top. The simplest process in the world. The mission is exactly the same – a series of simple, good deeds, all very much within our reach.

Wilderness throws an incredible perspective on life in general, and helps you to refine your actions to make bigger goals achievable, which is why I am extremely happy that it is a part of my life here.

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UWC-USA is one of 17 UWCs on five continents. Other countries that have UWCs include Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Swaziland, Thailand, and Wales.


UWC-USA students perform more than 18,700 hours of service every year through our association with 25 community partners. More than 2,500 people in Las Vegas, N.M. and the surrounding community have benefited from service projects led by UWC-USA students.


UWC-USA has 228 students representing more than 70 countries, from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Eleven students come from countries identified as conflict regions. Representation within our student body includes: Africa 10%, Asia 28%, Europe 29%, North America 23%, South America 10%.


Students don’t apply directly to the school; they are selected by committees in their home countries based on academic achievement, leadership, and curiosity about and involvement with global events and cultures.


Philanthropist Shelby Davis has created a $40 million endowment that provides 50 U.S. students with full scholarships to attend a UWC every year.


Our more than 3,357 UWC-USA alumni are spread across the globe: North America 26%, Latin America and Caribbean 16%, Africa 10%, Middle East 6%, Asia 14%, Europe 21%, Pacific 2%


UWC-USA offers the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Students can choose from IB classes in 28 subjects – a remarkable number given the size of the school.

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