For nearly three decades, Jerry Barker has led mountaineering expeditions for the Caldwell Fellows program. In his new book, “Pushing Boundaries,” he documents stories of the trips with contributions from former Caldwell Fellows and leaders.
The proceeds for the book will be donated to the Mark Wagoner Fund, which was established after the unexpected death of former Fellow Mark Wagoner in 2003. The fund supports two annual wilderness trips designed to enhance leadership and teamwork skills of participating Fellows.
The expeditions typically involve hikes on mountain ranges in the western United States, including Mount St. Helens in Washington, the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colorado and Mount Zion in Utah.
RedAndWhiteForLife.com had a chance to ask Barker about the trips, his new book and the Mark Wagoner Fund. Here’s a portion of the interview:
What is the importance of the outdoor aspect of the trips? There are multiple pieces to that. The outdoors is a unique classroom because it allows you to get away from your normal routine, and it can put you out of your comfort zone. You get away from electronics and your normal friends. The outdoors is beautiful, and it can also be very brutal. But life can be brutal, so the times you have to deal with rain, snow, cold, hot, whatever it might be, it gives you the opportunity to persevere, which is one of the words I love about the trip. It gives you a chance to challenge yourself in a unique environment. We tried to get students out of their comfort zones.
What were the things you hoped students would gain from the experience? We wanted students to think “Wow, I’ve never done anything this hard, but I did it.” Students are not always happy during the trip, but you learn to endure. You can’t climb a 14,000 foot mountain by yourself, so they learn the importance of teamwork. But I hope they had fun, too. I want them to experience the part of the country where they are. There are some really beautiful sights.
What were things you gained from the trips? I have learned a lot about leading camping trips. I’ve camped out almost 700 nights in my life, but as I’m getting older, I don’t like the cold weather as much. Sometimes it’s tough relating to an 18- or 19-year-old, but I’ve been blessed to be a peer with these kids. We endure the same hardships. If they have to climb the mountain, I’ve got to do it, too. I enjoy their energy, and I have some lifelong friends that I’ve made. I’ve always found the trips to be very spiritual journeys for me, and I enjoy having time to think and pray. My wife thinks I need to quit, but my knees work, and my heart works, and I enjoy it.
What are the goals of the Mark Wagoner Fund? Mark’s parents and fiancée at the time supported people giving money to support students to do the same things he did. It got off to a nice start, but it has grown to a sizeable amount. Mark was one of the students who went on the trip his sophomore year. Through the fund, we pay for students to do these trips, and to pursue leadership opportunities.
— Will Watkins
Those wishing to support the Caldwell Wilderness Experience or honor Wagoner can do so by purchasing Barker’s book, or by giving to the Mark Wagoner Fund. Checks should be made out to the NC State Alumni Association, with Mark Wagoner Fund in the ‘for’ line. Mail checks to: The Caldwell Fellows, NCSU Box 7121, Raleigh, N.C., 27695.
The Caldwell Fellows program is an intensive leadership-development scholarship program that was created by the Alumni Association to honor the legacy of Chancellor John T. Caldwell.