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Outdoor Challenge Course Provides More Than 8,000 with Teambuilding, Leadership Experience
In September 2013, the Department of Recreation Services (DRS), within the Division of Student Affairs, opened the outdoor Challenge Course on South Campus. Upon completion of the Challenge Course’s third fall season, the DRS outdoor education staff are pleased to see how the program and course have developed.
“It was a dream of mine to see us break ground on the Challenge Course in 2013,” says Scott Catucci, associate director for education and student development in Recreation Services. “The outdoor Challenge Course has really enhanced our ability to offer students, staff, faculty, organizations, businesses and community groups a unique learning and leadership experience.”
The Challenge Course provides groups with a customizable program consisting of low and high elements that encourages effective communication, team building and trust. More than 175 groups and 8,400 individuals have participated on the Challenge Course since it opened. The staff have led a variety of groups through the Challenge Course, including student organizations, academic departments, athletic teams and corporate offices, and have partnered with units across the University to provide individuals with unique opportunities to experience the course, such as the Staff and Faculty Challenge Course Day coordinated with the SU Wellness Initiative.
“As I look back on the last few years, it is great to see the vast groups of people we have been able to work with,” says Catucci.
One of those groups was Jill Ennis’ small group communications class. Ennis, an adjunct professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, has worked with the DRS outdoor education program for a few years and appreciates the valuable experiential learning experience it provides.
“Exploring theories and case studies may teach students about building trust and cooperation, but sending them 20 to 40 feet in the air with a group of near strangers immerses them in it completely,” says Ennis.
The Challenge Course has also welcomed groups from firms and schools in the surrounding area.
“We work with a very competitive and team-spirited group at Enterprise Holdings,” says Michael Taffner of Enterprise Holdings. “Spending the day on the Challenge Course tested our mental and physical ability, but more valuable was the test it provided of our teamwork and problem solving. Our folks came together and worked through challenges fairly quickly because of our culture, but the reward was seeing a new level of teamwork that brought us even closer than we thought. The staff was outstanding and I would highly recommend this exercise to anyone looking to take their team to the next level.”
In addition to the groups participating on the Challenge Course, the course has also expanded experiential learning opportunities for students through their role as challenge course facilitators. Since the Challenge Course opened, more than 60 students have gained hands-on employment experience managing group dynamics, facilitating experiential learning opportunities and inspiring collective action through collaborative leadership.
“What started as just a cool job for me has changed my life in more ways than I can imagine,” says Clayton Davidson, a senior in the Whitman School of Management and a Challenge Course facilitator. “My skills in working with teams, communication and feeling confident in uncomfortable situations have made me not only a better facilitator, but a better student and a better future businessman.”
The Challenge Course will open for the 2016 season in April. Groups can learn more about the Challenge Course or schedule a retreat or outing by contacting the Outdoor Education Center at 315-443-9935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be found on the Outdoor Education Center and Challenge Course webpage.