Project STEPP Challenge Course 2012

When most students picture their first days of college, dangling from a 50-foot climbing tower or tightrope-walking across a suspended cable probably aren’t the images that come to mind. Yet for the students in Project STEPP’s 2012 cohort, activities like these were an integral component of their first week on campus.

Project STEPP’s “Boot Camp” provides each incoming cohort with an intensive introduction to college life during the week before fall classes begin. Varieties of sessions connect students with key campus resources, improve their academic readiness, and facilitate social connections with members of their new support system at ECU. 

One of the most popular and impactful elements of the annual Boot Camp agenda is participation in the ECU Leadership and Team Training Center’s Challenge Course. Project STEPP’s Director, Dr. Sarah Williams, explains, “We include the Challenge Course as a culminating activity because it is an excellent way for students to build trust, bond as a cohort, lose any apprehensions they may have about getting to know each other, and just have fun together. It is also yet another way to immerse students in the rich array of ECU resources.”

Each year, first-year students and staff participate in the course together. The morning starts out with group games, laying a foundation of cooperation and trust. “The field games were a really good warm-up,” reflects a current junior. “I paired up with my mentor in one of the activities. We really bonded and got to know each other, and we even still talk to each other now.”

After the field games, the group migrates to the woods for the course’s low elements. Each element requires students to use cooperation, communication, and creative thinking to complete a group task. A student in the 2009 cohort described the experience as “interactive, interesting, and fun. It made you think!” Although some goals appear deceptively simple, others seem impossible to reach at first; only with teamwork and persistence does the group ultimately conquer each element. In 2012, one of the Project STEPP mentors commented that these activities “brought out our weaknesses, but united us as a team and created a stronger support system.”

The day’s final activity provides each participant with a turn to climb the 50-foot Alpine Tower. Some students immediately embrace this opportunity, and (fortified by the encouragement of their newfound support system) even the more acrophobic members of the group often find they can exceed their own expectations in tackling this challenge.

Students in past cohorts have universally agreed that the Challenge Course is a bonding experience with a lasting impact. A current junior shared this perspective: “Doing things together outside of the classroom from the get-go showed us that not only would we be learning together, but we could also be friends.” The 2012 cohort agreed, and the Challenge Course was the highest-rated Boot Camp activity this year. One freshman commented, “It helped us come together. I felt closer to my group afterwards.” By taking full advantage of this experience, the students in the 2012 cohort got off to a great start at ECU!