Dean Henry Moses

Image from The Harvard Crimson

Henry C. Moses, former Freshman Dean and founder of the Harvard First-Year Outdoor Program, passed away at the age of 66. Even today, 34 years since its founding, FOP bears Dean Moses' stamp of passion for first-years and for the outdoors, and we are forever indebted to him. His memory lives on in our program.

Victor Henningsen (FOP Director 1981-1984) on Dean Henry Moses

Hank knew that entering Harvard students shared one thing: fear - a gnawing anxiety about themselves and their abilities combined with deep apprehension about their classmates. If they agreed on anything it was that they made each other very nervous. Hank's empathy for the quiet desperation of Harvard first-years was extraordinary. Hank acted on those feelings. Let's find a way to put those anxious freshmen in challenging situations - situations that have nothing to do with academics - and get them to stretch their comfort zones. That shared experience will create a bond to help them navigate first year rocks and shoals.

And so, in 1979, what is now known as the First-Year Outdoor Program was born - not, as we used to say, a wilderness experience for Harvard students, but a Harvard experience that happens to occur in the wilderness. At the time of its founding, FOP was only the second program of its kind. Today, FOP is a fixture at Harvard and similar college outdoor orientation programs are all over.

Hank loved seeing the student groups return and he listened avidly to the tales they told. One, in particular, stuck with him. A FOP staffer fell into conversation with an elderly native of the state of Maine. Discovering that the young man was a Harvard student, the Mainer paused, eyed him speculatively, and asked: "You learning anything down there, or are you just confused?" Reflecting on that moment, Hank thought not just about FOP, but about the learning enterprise it introduced. "Harvard," he wrote, "is many different things. For me it comes down to learning how to choose, how to decide, about this, that, and every other thing under the sun. In that connection," he continued, "what that old man said has become emblematic to me. He was wrong, of course: it wasn't an either-or situation. We are learning something - and we are confused."

Learning, he would say, is hard; learning is messy; learning happens when you're uncomfortable and would rather be doing almost anything else. But we do learn and we learn most effectively when we face challenges with others who support us and whom we learn to support. And that's when learning becomes joyous.