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Reaching the SUMMIT: Peak Leadership and Team Development

by Allen Rakotoniaina (allenrako@gwu.edu)

In the fast-paced life of a college student, leadership and teamwork skills are emphasized not only in academic curricula, but also in extracurricular activities, including campus involvement and internships. However, without a forum in which to practice, it can be a daunting task to translate the concepts of leadership and teamwork into real-world activities.

Enter the GW SUMMIT Outdoor Challenge Course.

As the only low ropes course located inside the District of Columbia, SUMMIT offers a convenient and unique opportunity for George Washington University undergraduate and graduate students to apply and develop individual leadership skills and build team cohesion. Many of GW’s student organizations (who participate for free), co-curricular and leadership programs such as Women’s Leadership Program and LEAD GW, and University departments use the Course as a mechanism to achieve a variety of learning outcomes. Since its opening in 2005, SUMMIT has hosted groups from American and Georgetown Universities, academic programs from the Washington Center and the Cyprus Bi-Communal Youth Institute, U.S. Government agencies, and corporate teams such as Fannie Mae and Capital One. This broad client base has contributed to the nearly 1,600 participants welcomed to the Course from summer 2017 though the 2017-2018 academic year.

SUMMIT Facilitator and former Colonial Cabinet member Steven Shi guides student participants through the SUMMIT element called GWeb.

Each SUMMIT session—led by a trained Facilitator—utilizes a variety of interactive challenges to teach and reinforce concepts such as communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Throughout the session, debrief activities led by SUMMIT Facilitators allow participants to process the lessons learned during the session and integrate them into practical, real-world contexts.

The activities and the reflections held after each element were so important for our group dynamics and we heard very positive feedback from the Colonial Cabinet regarding that. The activities were conducive for activities we did on our own after SUMMIT and the experience was really enjoyable and beneficial."

-Colonial Cabinet

However, the learning process is not limited to participants. SUMMIT sessions are facilitated by a dedicated and well-trained group of 13 undergraduate students. These students are able to incorporate elements of their individual experiences and courses of study—ranging from Communications and Finance to International Affairs and Organizational Sciences—into session development and debrief activities. Although each group presents unique challenges and learning moments, Facilitators approach these growth opportunities with an open mind and eager attitude.

The intentionality with which sessions are planned and facilitated by SUMMIT staff has led to rave reviews by many course participants. In the 2017-2018 academic year, 100% of groups who completed a post-session evaluation rated their experience as “Good” or “Excellent,” and felt that Facilitators appropriately fulfilled the needs of their group.

Each group felt that the instructors personalized the activities to their strengths and helped explore some of the themes during the debriefing after each activity. The challenges set us up for a very thorough and thought-provoking discussion afterwards."-GW Kappa Delta Sorority

So, if you are looking for an opportunity to grow on both an individual and group level, join us at SUMMIT! We do not just talk about leadership and teamwork; we provide an opportunity for students to live it, practice it, and learn what it means for them. For more information, please visit go.gwu.edu/SUMMIT.

Allen Rakotoniaina is the Assistant Program Coordinator overseeing SUMMIT. He is a graduate student studying health policy and graduating in May 2018.

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