Instructor Profile: Emily Durkin, Voyageur Outward Bound School

“I know that whether my students remember my name or not, I had a positive impact on someone’s life. They’re looking back at their Outward Bound experience – maybe ten years from now – knowing that it’s meaningful and worthwhile,” Durkin explains.

As a Voyageur Outward Bound School Instructor for over six summers and a teacher during the school year at the small, private Telluride Mountain School in Telluride, CO, Emily Durkin is a master at combining outdoor education with methods traditionally used in the classroom. Durkin rarely has a day off– yet the time she spends with her students, whether instructing at Outward Bound or teaching middle and high school classes, continues to inspire her.

Outward Bound Instructor Emily Durkin

Emily teaching a group of students about open water navigation.

Durkin began working for Outward Bound in 2009. She arrived from Germantown, Maryland as an intern with a background in wilderness adventure and quickly fell in love with the history and philosophy of Outward Bound. Since 2009, Durkin has earned a Masters in Education from the University of Washington – a degree she uses on a daily basis with both Outward Bound and Telluride Mountain School students. For Durkin, the teaching and instructing roles complement and build on one another.

“On an Outward Bound course, I implement a lot of behavior management strategies I use in the classroom.” She explains. “We work on respectful communication and problem solving issues with other students. These skills are useful in both places.”

Troubled teens programs

Durkin with her students after completing The Grand Portage in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.

Although Durkin instructs a variety of Voyageur Outward Bound School courses, she especially enjoys working with the Struggling Teens & Young Adults populations. “I would be sad if a summer went by and I didn’t get to instruct a Struggling Teens course,” Durkin reflects.

Led by Instructors who firmly believe that every student has talent and potential, Outward Bound Struggling Teens & Young Adults expeditions are designed to address destructive behavior with a focus on self-awareness, goal-setting, communication, trust and productive life skills for at-risk individuals.

“There’s something about these kids,” Durkin explains. “They bring this energy that allows them to take risks and put themselves out there. I get to see substantial growth from beginning to end.”

Durkin also enjoys the dynamic nature of the students she works with. “There’s never a dull moment,” Durkin points out. “No matter how many students you’ve had, and no matter how many expeditions you’ve been on, you’re always learning new things as an Outward Bound Struggling Teens & Young Adults Instructor. There are different group dynamics. There are different successes. And each group brings new challenges.”

Durkin says that the supportive, group wilderness environment of an Outward Bound expedition is key in helping students build character and develop life skills. “They recognize early on that this is a safe place where they can be proud of doing things – and doing them right. It might be making dinner one night, or putting up their tent correctly. It’s amazing how small successes can impact their motivation and self image,” Durkin elaborates.

“An Outward Bound course is also a great place to start identifying positive role models,” Durkin says. “You can show them that there are positive role models out there – and where they can find those positive role models outside of Outward Bound.”

Outward Bound instructor with student

Emily paddling with a student on course in the Boundary Waters.

The true highlight of the Struggling Teens & Young Adults courses for Durkin is at the end, when she meets her students’ parents during the family conference. “The students get to show off their skills,” she says. “They get to self-advocate, and show their parents they can communicate in a different way than when they left.”  No longer seen as a troubled teen, but as a strong individual with newfound purpose.

Beyond helping troubled teenagers realize their full potential, Durkin has also had the privilege of working with incoming interns. As she guides fresh faces into leadership roles in the field, she loves “trying to get people hooked on Outward Bound, and showing them what our students are capable of doing; and the impact they can make.” For Durkin, this life-changing impact is what keeps her coming back to Minnesota year after year. 

In the rare instances when Durkin is not teaching in Telluride or canoeing and backpacking in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, she’s mountain biking, skiing, or at Crossfit. And every once in a while she gets to escape to the Outer Banks of North Carolina – her favorite natural place since childhood – to a beach that has managed to ward off the devastating effects of urbanization. 

Outward Bound Instructor, Emily Durkin skiing

Emily skiing in Telluride.

But nearly every day in the summer, you’ll find her out in the Minnesota wilderness, surrounded by teenagers and beautiful scenery, with a secret stash of chocolate covered almonds nearby – her favorite Outward Bound treat.  As she reflects on her time at the Voyageur Outward Bound School she explains,“I have no interest in going anywhere else, I love the community up there. You form deep bonds with the Instructors you work with. I am still good friends with Instructors that were there the first year I arrived as an intern. You run into these folks and it’s like the summer never ended.”

We wish Emily Durkin the best as she joins us for her seventh season and are proud to have her as an Outward Bound Instructor.

For information about Struggling Teens & Young Adults courses like the ones Durkin instructs, go to www.outwardbound.org/struggling-teens/struggling-teens or call 866.467.7651 to speak with an Admissions Advisor today.

Sign-up for our newsletter to keep up on our Struggling Teens expeditions, resources for families and special offers.