If looking for a new twist on spring break this year, UT's Outdoor Program may be the way to go. Be warned, though: they are an adventuresome bunch.

This semester, UTOP will be offering two spring break adventure trips in order to give students an opportunity to explore the outdoors, discover potential passions and educate themselves on how to best be equipped in nature. The first trip, costing each participant $250, will take students on a kayaking trip throughout the Southeast, where they will tour Southern Appalachian creeks and rivers.

UTOP also offers an adventure excursion to Colorado and Utah. For $450, students who join the trip will learn biking and canyoning abilities. Both trips' fees cover food, equipment rentals, transportation and lodging. Nick Shoemaker, an Outdoor Center staff member, said UTOP's investment in university students makes it a worthwhile program for all.

"All our trips try to be educational. We are going to teach the how to," Shoemaker said. "Instruction is what separates us from the other programs."

In other words, UTOP exists for the learner, the true student. Shoemaker explained that the goal of UTOP is to help the members progress.

"I like to see people developing as leaders in their area of expertise. Every year's class comes in with varying experience," he said. "Every year they get better and better."

UTOP members are quick to point out that the instruction provided is not the only thing that makes the program exceptional. Katielynn Parrott, a freshman in microbiology, said her first UTOP experience was a weekend trip. Going into the program as the new kid was nerve-racking for Parrot.

"It kind of makes you nervous doing something you're not comfortable with. I was definitely nervous going into it," Parrott said.

The anxiety did not last long as this particular group has a way of making everyone feel welcome.

"The guys working UTOP were super helpful. Literally the entire time there was staff with me," Parrott explained.

Shoemaker reinforced this notion of community. With one word, he described the eagerness of a UTOP trip group to make newcomers feel welcome.

"Camaraderie," Shoemaker said. "It's like a family."

UTOP will have another informational meeting regarding the Adventure Spring Break trips at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 in the Outdoor Center, located in the basement of TRECs. Additionally, spring break trips are not the only programs sponsored by UTOP. The group also offers clinics, weekend trips and weekly activities throughout the semester.

For those specifically interested in community involvement, UTOP is working to support local projects through an All-Access weekend on Feb. 22-23.

For more information on any of the UTOP services and trips, contact the Outdoor Center at 865-974-9749 or email at utop@utk.edu.