COOT Committee, students prepare for upcoming applications

COOT applications are due soon, prompting organizers and applicants alike to reflect on the process that affects every Colby student.

Applicants provide written materials – a cover letter, resume, and six 200-word essay questions – and interview with members of the COOT Committee. The committee is comprised of a group of 31 COOT leaders who apply to lead the program. One of their main responsibilities is to run the leader selection process. In 2019, 241 students applied to be COOT leaders and 150 were accepted.

The Echo sat down with  Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Linehan as he explained the five criteria that he and the Committee look for. 

“[Leaders are] supporting the transition of first-year students to Colby, facilitating activities and discussions that promote the goals of the program, delivering skill instruction appropriate to the trip, maintaining emotional and physical safety and risk management standards, and serving as an ongoing role model and mentor for COOT participants and the larger campus community throughout the academic year.”

Linehan said that the interview and application materials allow the Committee to determine whether an applicant fulfills these criteria. Two-time Committee member Sam Kane Jiménez `21J said that the application materials standardize the information that the Committee has on each applicant.

Kane Jiménez emphasized that the application materials are living documents which are reviewed every year by a sub-committee and evaluated to see whether “those responses [were] hitting the nail on the head on what we intended those questions to demonstrate to us.”

An anonymous student who has been rejected twice from the program re-emphasized how important the application materials are. She explained that her second cover letter was much longer than her first one, which she attributed to the increased experience she had to discuss after a year at Colby.

Despite this new experience, this student  feels that her application was damaged because she did not adequately reflect her personal growth. She also thinks that she was “a little too pro-Colby. It seems like they probably want to hear about downfalls as well. I think that I was really uppity about my experience.”

After reading the written materials and interviewing all applicants, the Committee enters deliberations, during which they must make all decisions by consensus. Linehan said that consensus requires all Committee members to agree, so “that’s why you’ll hear that it takes a long time, it takes over two Sundays in March. And we look for efficiencies but…I want everyone on that committee to feel really good that we’ve chosen the best mentors for the first year.”

Apart from the application materials and interview, Committee members only use what they call “formal experience” in deliberations. This means that Committee members can only bring up leadership or professional experience that they have had with an applicant in deliberations, not any other anecdotes.

Kane Jiménez shared that it is challenging “dissociating your personal interests from what you do know about the community…not allowing personal interest to come through to that.”

The quantity and quality of experience required to be accepted to COOT are the background of some rumors and misconceptions about the process. The anonymous student shared that when she applied as a first year, “I don’t think I had enough experience being here really to know how to provide guidance but of course I was optimistic that I would get the position.”

Kane Jiménez explained that from the Committee’s perspective, class year is “not something that we particularly look at.” 

Linehan recalled that “it depends each year. There’ve been years with a lot of rising seniors. People don’t want to do it sophomore year, by then they want to be part of the program because [they think] ‘I’ve learned a lot here, I’ve gone through the transition, and I want to give back’ and so sometimes we get a lot of applicants out of the seniors.”

Applicants also speculate about the weight of each part of the application and what the  Committee really wants to hear from them. The anonymous student said that “it’s confusingly selective. Sometimes I’m unsure. I know the interview must matter more than the written part, but do they read the written part carefully? And, if so, are they looking for certain buzz words? I think that’s unclear.”

Linehan and Kane Jiménez asserted that the Committee strives for transparency with the process. “There’s no secrets,” Linehan said. 

The Committee has made improvements over the years to the application process. Linehan reflected that “[his] first deliberations was really brief and we didn’t have a process and that showed.”

The Committee has also worked on decreasing the barrier that lack of outdoor experience creates for applicants. Emma Hofman `20 thinks that “they’ve done a really good job of emphasizing that you don’t need outdoor experience. I still think people think of COOT as requiring outdoor experience.”

To those students who think outdoor experience is requisite to their application, Linhean would say that that “is not the case at all,” and that outdoor experience is not included in any of the five criteria.

He acknowledged that COOT does need some leaders qualified to lead backcountry – remote, wilderness based – trips. “That is 30% of our offers. And where we’re growing the program is more frontcountry [easily accessible areas]: base camp trips each year as the class size grows; we’re adding more on that end of it.”

A big change in the process in recent years was the switch from an even split of male and female COOT leaders to a “gender-blind” process. Linehan recalled: “They challenged the model that we were doing male and female and what we did is we’d come in to numbers. We were looking for a certain amount. And that was kind of driving our process. We realized that in that it’s flawed where we weren’t necessarily picking the best candidates.”

During the 2019 process, the Committee decided to send an email to the student body requesting that students involved in underground fraternities not apply for COOT. Linehan stated that “our program is all about inclusivity and the frats were breaking that apart. They [the Committee] drafted their statement on their own.”

Kane Jiménez elaborated that this statement was necessary because Committee cannot use anecdotes in deliberations, such as those labelling an applicant as a member of an underground fraternity. Instead, they “sent out a message telling them to self select out rather than pointing fingers.”

While many improvements have been made to the COOT application process, students feel that there is more to be done. Hofman suggested  that “there should be more emphasis on other things like involvement on campus and maybe diversifying the written part to make it a little more interesting and a little more telling.”

What Linehan would change about the COOT process? “I would love to offer everyone who applies a position on COOT.”

When asked what advice he would give to applicants, Linehan said that he would like to see those “who have had a positive COOT experience, but also people who have had challenging COOT experiences, to apply, because it is a student-driven program, so get involved and make it better.”

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