This week, we had the wonderful opportunity to interview Syracuse alum Nir Swenson about his experiences with SU’s outdoor education program. Swenson started doing adventure courses as a sophomore. He was immediately drawn to the thrills of outdoor education and even went on to become a facilitator for the challenge course. He worked for Recreation Services throughout his time at SU and has logged over 400 hours on various challenge courses! Read below for what he had to say about outdoor education and advice he has for those who wish to do the challenge course.
Tell me about your experiences on the challenge course. What sort of activities did you do? What was your most memorable activity?
NS: I’ve worked as a facilitator with a few different challenge courses and the Syracuse University Challenge Course is always my favorite. Besides the “fun” and doing the different elements, at [Syracuse] we focus on education. We start with icebreakers as a way to meet everyone and “break the ice.” Then, we move to low rope activities or activities that require thinking outside the box. Every group that comes to the course may do something entirely different from the last. For example, If the main goal were communication, then we would do the Giants Ladder where you need a partner to complete the activity. If the goal was leadership, we may focus on activities where the solution is not [as] obvious. We always finish with a closing activity to tie everything together from the program and hear what the participants felt. Every activity is unique in its own way. I can do one activity with 10 different groups and no one group would use the same method of achieving the goal.
Why do you think outdoor adventure and experiential education are important?
NS: Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Outdoor adventure and experiential education is all about involving the participants. The best part is when you gain skills or insight from an adventure program, you can apply what you’ve learned to other courses in all majors. Besides the learning part, everyone needs a break from work [or] school and what better break than climbing a wall or going down a zip line!
It is often said that one learns new things about themselves and their teammates when they participate in a challenge course. What new things did you learn about yourself or your team?
NS: Besides the professional skills I gained, I learned about my personal growth and my limits. The main thing was that it was all in my head. I’m attached to a rope that can hold 10,000 lbs and the person belaying me has experience in challenge course facilitation. I know I’m safe and nothing is going to happen. I just have to tell my mind that and take that leap of faith.
What sort of professional and/or personal skills did you develop while participating in the challenge course program?
NS: Communication, leadership, confidence and responsibility are all skills I’ve learned while participating in and working on a challenge course. We break down the activity and talk about what just happened and every group tends to go deeper and deeper into the analysis of the activity.
NS: I’m excited to “pass it forward.” I had 3 years working with the challenge course and outdoor education department and now that I have moved on, it’s time for someone else to rise up and be the facilitator. And this course will have it all. For the participants, the course will keep you interested and excited. For the facilitators, the course will have everything that one would want. I’m also excited for Scott Catucci. This Challenge Course has been his dream since coming to Syracuse and now his dream is coming true. He has devoted everything to Syracuse University and the Outdoor Education department so students will have the opportunity to experience something most colleges and universities are without.
Any tips or advice for people who have never done a challenge course?
NS: The hardest challenge is in the mind. If you can trust the facilitators and your fellow teammates, there is nothing to worry about. You just have to take a “Leap of Faith.”