Joliet, Ill. – The Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE), a nonprofit committed to reconnecting individuals with the outdoors, annually hosts its AORE Campus Challenge to get students from more than 90 universities off the couch and into the outdoors. This year, the University of St. Francis (USF) assembled a team comprised of over 550 students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and community members who took on their peers from across the country. The result? USF finished as the #1 Most Outdoorsy School in the Nation in Division 2, the #1 Most Outdoorsy School in the Midwest, and USF student Caeley Grady was named the #1 Most Outdoorsy Individual Champion in the country.

During the four-week competition that ran from September 16 through October 13, the USF team logged 4,090 activities scoring over 73,000 points to win the Division 2 title. Jerome Gabriel, Ed.D., USF Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation and Sport Management, led USF’s efforts in the competition and feels the win demonstrates the university’s love for the outdoors.

“By winning the 2019 AORE Campus Challenge, USF has shown that right here in the Midwest is a relatively urban university that has a deep passion for being active outdoors. It shows that an active, outdoorsy campus doesn’t necessarily need to have all of the fancy amenities that other schools have in order to encourage people to be outside. Instead, we learn to love the outdoor spaces we do have such as the Will County Forest Preserves, State Parks, and National Forests, all of which are located within a short drive of campus. Winning this year means that USF has established itself on a national stage as a passionate, outdoor culture interested in helping students not only learn about the outdoors, but to actually experience the outdoors, as well,” Gabriel said.

This year marks the second time USF has entered AORE’s annual competition. In 2017, USF finished second in the nation and first in the Midwest. Gabriel credits the increased level of success to a higher level of participation by people both on and off campus.

“This year we significantly grew out team size through strategic partnerships with multiple campus departments and outreach to local community partners.  This additional planning and organization ultimately led to a more successful run this year,” Gabriel said.

As more and more people nationally are shifting toward a sedentary lifestyle, Gabriel sees participating in a competition like the AORE Campus Challenge as a way to promote a healthy, active lifestyle.

“Unfortunately the trend in our nation has been to spend more and more time indoors instead of enjoying the outdoor spaces that surround us.  Whether that is looking at the statistics of a young adult averaging 8 hours a day in front of a screen or many people in our nation averaging 92% of their day indoors, the need to reconnect with outdoor spaces is greater now than ever before.  An opportunity like the AORE Campus Challenge allowed us to encourage our Campus and our community to get outside and be active not only to help the University in the competition, but to help themselves to a healthier more active lifestyle,” he said.

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 50,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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