Nick Levin & Ryan

Education & Leadership

Tufts, ExCollege


Nick Levin and Ryan created a curriculum and taught a unique mountaineering class that focused on exploring the sport through exposure to history, practice and ethics in activities, discussions and readings.

I’ve always enjoyed introducing people to the outdoors. Nick Levin feels the same way, so we joined forces and developed a curriculum for a full credit mountaineering class that we would teach through the ExCollege at Tufts University.

The ExCollege at Tufts is an incredible department. Each semester, they bring in local experts to teach a full college course on non-traditional topics, such as maritime law, baseball statistics or hypnotism. They reserver a few classes each year for students who have an expertise and want to teach a class. Nick Levin and I proposed a curriculum for a mountaineering class that would focus not only on hard skills, like knots and climbing techniques, but also the history of the sport and the philosophical debates that surround its practice.

The course filled up almost immediately, and we taught our course to 18 undergraduates, freshman through seniors. We did what we could to simulate mountains on campus, building snow anchors in plowed snow drifts and practicing self arresting techniques on the hill.  The course differed from more skills oriented courses, such as a NOLS or Outward Bound, in a unique way. Different perspectives could be explored when students were learning simultaneously about a historical context, the ethics surrounding the decisions that are made in the mountains and the current practices in the sport. We built tangental experience by reading incredible stories of survival and conquest by Walter Bonatti, Jon Krakauer, and Ernest Shakeleton, to name a few. We also read most of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence as a way to show the broader application of ideas regarding the environment and hardship (of which mountaineering has a lot of!).

Our curriculum touched on the following topics, and culminated in a final trip planning and preparation project.

  • Mountain environments
  • Weather
  • Leave No Trace
  • First aid
  • Rock climbing history
  • Rock climbing technique
  • Climbing gear placement
  • Ice climbing
  • Glacier travel
  • Crevasse rescue
  • Trip planning and preparation
  • Meal planning
  • Ethics (including free soloing, rescue, commercialization and environmentalism)
  • First hand accounts of survival and reflections on mountaineering

Obviously we couldn’t expect our students to master all of these skills, but the course did prove very successful as an introduction to the sport in a way that contextualized it from several different perspectives.

Peer teaching was also an incredibly educational experience for Nick and me. Throughout the semester I came to understand the delicate balance between being a friend and being an instructor, who needs to ensure fairness and efficiency in the classroom. It was really helpful that our class was interested and respectful as it made teaching not only really fun, but also a very interactive and collaborative process. I certainly have more respect for the organization and breadth of knowledge teaching in the classroom requires.

Tufts Now, a news hub for the university, ran a story on our class which can be found here. There is also a slideshow of pictures from one of our classes that was held outdoors.

This class has only reinforced my interest in and love for teaching all things outdoors!

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