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New Heights

Forget living close to the edge. Seek out the edge itself—and see how you, and your team, handle it.

“The wall crushes a lot of egos,” says Alison Jackson Frasier ‘04 cheerfully. She’s a coordinator in the Center for Student Leadership Development, a small, upbeat woman with a casually confident manner who tears herself away from her leadership minor students to show off the new indoor climbing wall on North Road. “We’ve had 5-year-olds make it to the top, and college athletes struggle,” she adds, as she surveys the 38-foot-tall wall. “It’s always surprising.”

Ego-crushing, she is quick to explain, is not what the climbing wall is about—it’s about building things, like self-confidence, community, and the ability to ask for and accept help. Sure, with five belay stations assigned to climbs of varying difficulty—from a gentle incline to a steep overhang—and other elements like rope ladders, moments of stress are to be expected. But that’s how adventure-based learning works.

Funded by the Student Senate and occupying an oddly shaped building that looks like half a gambrel barn, the facility is the latest addition to the center’s North Woods Challenge Course. Besides student groups, it attracts corporate team-builders, high-wire scout troops and middle schoolers working the zip line. They’re assisted by rigorously trained student and staff facilitators.

“Balancing appropriate encouragement and challenge to people who are out of their comfort zone takes skill,” says Frasier. “Everyone learns a lot about themselves and how they interact with the world in here. And now we can do it year round. It’s a phenomenal opportunity that few campuses offer.”

The only group that hasn’t used the climbing wall yet? Alumni. “I’d love to see them here,” she says.

—Pippa Jack

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