A Blog from the Treetops: ESAC’s Leadership Retreat

ESAC“The ‘leap of faith’ is a high rope element that perches a climber on a wooden plank 50 feet atop a tree, facing a rope dangled just out of reach. The objective is to touch the rope by lunging off the board. This sounded simple as explained by the guide on solid ground, but by the time I rose to my feet on the launching pad, my legs were shaking like mad.”

Arthur Xu was one of 13 participants in last month’s Engineering Student Activities Council (ESAC) Leadership Retreat, organized to cultivate leadership among engineers.  The senior members of the group hoped that the experiences of the retreat would encourage underclassmen to become better group leaders and readily assume greater responsibilities in student groups.  Xu notes that the engineering curriculum presents many opportunities for teamwork, and that this program would support those opportunities by providing experiential lessons on leadership.

“I am a firm believer that leadership is best taught in the field, and the day-long trip provided plenty of difficult scenarios,” he recalls. “There was the classical spider web, where we hoisted people through tight holes, losing a few legs and arms along the way. And then there was ‘riding the A,’ an exercise which required close coordination between groups of navigators. The crowning element of the day was the high ropes course, which, as I indicated earlier, took a lot of guts.”

“I noticed that, as a group, we had an eagerness to try things. We’d come up with a possible solution and couldn’t wait to get started. This urge to get our hands dirty got us into trouble several times, when things weren’t what we’d imagined. First, we underestimated the difficulty of certain holes in the spider web. A task later, we wrongly assumed the gaps between platforms we were trying to cross were the same. In each of these cases, we would have benefited from more careful strategy sessions.”

“What surprised me is how quickly we overcame our mistakes. There were times when I was sure we were unable to complete a given scenario. But in the end, we never had to restart a task. Even after several members lost legs/arms (symbolically), we managed to regroup and reach the goal. And lastly, although most of us were strangers, the team got things done in an organic manner, with people weighing in freely.”

“By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted, and in one instant or another, pushed beyond his or her comfort zone. I entered this to try something new, and got out of it a lot more than I expected. Some may dismiss the concept of the exercises as playing in an adult-sized jungle gym. But then again, kids learn a lot on playgrounds! So what would I say the next time ESAC wants to take engineers out of Towne and into the woods to learn about leadership? Sounds good to me.”

Excerpts from a blog entry written by Arthur Xu, a senior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

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