Marketing & Communications

Exploring leadership in the great outdoors

October 12, 2012

Compasses and maps lead Presidential Honors students to define own leadership styles

Presidential Honors students recently discovered that a compass and map could help to demonstrate their styles of leadership as well as to navigate unfamiliar terrain.

About 25 first- and second-year students used the objects to explore leadership and teamwork during an orienteering challenge as part of the Presidential Honors fall retreat in northern Michigan. Second-year students were tasked as team leaders for the younger students. They all camped at the University of Michigan Biological Station near Paradise, Mich.

"We want to push and challenge them in ways they have never been challenged before," said Dr. Paul Moore, director of the University Honors program.

Orienteering is a sport that requires using traditional navigational tools to successfully complete a timed race outdoors. The tasks required by orienteering include deciphering symbols on a map and using pace counts to find the right path. Think: scavenger hunt. To find the clue to the next point in the race, participants had to answer a question related to their surroundings.

Sophomore Marjorie Williams, a marketing major from Detroit, Mich., resisted the urge to intervene when her group was struggling to decide whether to spend additional time on a tricky clue or to move on to the next point. She recognizes that her leadership style is dominant, so it was a challenge to hold back even when her group looked to her for guidance.

"I think everybody emerged as a leader in different aspects," Williams said of the first-year students in her group. "One emerged as having the endurance to run ahead and get to the point so as not to draw attention from the next group. They grew as they found their roles naturally."

And then, there were those like sophomore Kathryne Rubright, a journalism major from Doylestown, Ohio, who identifies as a collaborative leader but pushed herself to speak up more than she normally would during the orienteering challenge.

"I would say I'm a lot better at leading by example or throwing ideas out there and seeing what the group wants to do," Rubright said. "I learned that I am able to do things I don't necessarily expect myself to be able to do. We weren't very good at going out and finding the points, but I was still able to read the map, use the compass, and come up with a plan."

Students seem to recognize the practical applications of the skills they develop during orienteering.

"The most beneficial aspect (of the retreat) is learning about your strengths because that is something you can apply in any aspect of life, whether you are working on a school project or working after graduation," Williams said. "You may never have to go into the forest again, but you will have to work with people."

The Presidential Honors program consists of students hand-selected from the group of 571 students enrolled in the University Honors program on campus. Participating first- and second-year students at BGSU attend all courses with their cohort to complete their general education requirements.

The Presidential Honors program's cross-disciplinary curriculum emphasizes leadership, challenges students to identify their leadership style and allows instructors to offer feedback so that students may continually improve their leadership skills. The first Presidential Honors cohort was introduced three years ago, and was based on framework imagined by Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau, 9th president of BGSU.

Another challenging aspect of the retreat for students is their commitment to abandon their cell phones and the Internet behind for several days, observed Moore, the honors director.

"One student said she always talks to her mother every day. She has never not done that," Moore said. "Something even as minor as that kind of transformation is amazing to see. These students go from a place of relying on technology and other people for security to relying on themselves for everything."

Dr. Jane Rosser is director of service learning at BGSU and teaches second-year students in the Presidential Honors program. The idea of Presidential Honors program overall is to shape students to become "self-directed learners" and Rosser asserts that the orienteering challenge at the retreat is just one of many ongoing activities to support that idea.

"You see a growth in confidence," Rosser said. Students are "starting to make sense of 'what I'm good at, what I'm not good at.' These skills connect to who they want to be as a person, what kind of professional they want to be, and what kind of leader they want to be." ###