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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

URI’s Center for Student Leadership Development offers students a ‘challenging’ course

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 15, 2003 -- With his right foot looped in the rope, University of Rhode Island MBA student Bill Montanaro of Narragansett has to make a strategic decision. How does this modern-day Tarzan swing on the rope and land on a 3-foot-by-3-foot platform 15 feet away without knocking over a dozen or more of his classmates huddled there? If he falls short of the platform and into the fictitious raging river, he must be rescued. He has blown the exercise and the team has to start over.

That’s the challenge. Or rather that’s the Nitro Crossing, just one of 15 elements in URI’s new Challenge Course, located in the woods just off Old North Road on the edge of the Kingston campus.

The course, funded in large part by URI’s Student Senate, is designed to build such leadership skills as how to communicate clearly, problem solving, and remain calm, especially when it looks like someone twice your size is about bowl you over.

"It’s physical and it’s mental," agrees Steve Simo of URI’s Center for Student Leadership Development who coordinates the challenge course. "It’s experiential education. Students are challenged to work together to create a vision, a mission. " There is no cost to participate.

The course is modeled after the successful Project Adventure, an international program with 30-plus years of experiential education. The course’s elements are rated for their difficulty much like a ski course, with the black diamond creating a jewel of an effort. The perceived risk of injury is much higher than the reality, however. "Real estate agents suffer more slips and falls according to a 20-year challenge course safety study," says Simo, noting that additional financial help for the course came from URI’s University College, professional development program and leadership program in partnership with the Memorial Union.

The Spider’s Web element is definitely for the nimble. The web is a series of knotted ropes designed much like its namesake. The object is to get a dozen people through the web without anyone touching the rope. Adding to the difficulty of the task is the fact that once someone goes through one of the web’s holes, it is shut off.

Students who help facilitate the course come from diverse areas of University life, including the ROTC program, the Women’s Center, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender organization, as well as students enrolled in the 18-credit interdisciplinary minor in leadership studies which combines academics with experiential learning.

URI’s Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich has three similar courses which are used extensively by adults participating in team-building programs at its Whispering Pines Conference Center and by school -aged children attending programs at its Environmental Education Center.

The initial work on the parking lot and field was done during August of 2002 by the U.S. Army Reserve Engineering Corp and coordinated by URI’s ROTC program. However, the work has stopped since the reservists have been activated. "It’s still a work in progress," says Simo who notes that the course will eventually offer six ADA-approved elements for students who are disabled. Rough terrain issues have delayed accessibility.

Student groups including members of URI’s Union Board, Coffeehouse, Diversity House, Student Senate, the men’s soccer team and its coaches have already taken the challenge.

All incoming MBA students, who will spend the one-year program working together as a team on a wide variety of projects, took the challenge before school began this fall. It was an opportunity for them to get acquainted wiggling through tires, falling in hopes that their new classmates will catch them, and swinging in the air.

"There was a time when I was very skeptical as to whether or not we would be able to fit everyone on that little platform," says Montanaro. "But I knew if we worked together, we could accomplish any task."

Anyone interested in learning more about URI’s Challenge Course can contact Steve Simo at 874-2883 or Jan Wenzel, URI News Bureau, 874-2116.

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Page last revised Wednesday, October 15, 2003 .