Interview with Nir Swenson ’13

Nir-SwensonThis 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.

What are you most excited about for the ‘Cuse Challenge Course?swenson1

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.”


Construction begins on Outdoor Education Center


We are excited to announce that construction of the Outdoor Education Center on South Campus has begun! The Outdoor Education Center will serve as the hub for outdoor education programs at Syracuse University. It will be the place where participants will gather to begin their team-building program experience on the ‘Cuse Challenge Course. The ‘Cuse Challenge Course and Outdoor Education Center will be open in September 2013. To schedule your group’s outing, contact Scott Catucci at 315-443-0290 or

3 Ways Outdoor Education Helps with Leadership

We know teamwork is essential, but what happens when you must lead the team? Perhaps you are elected to lead an organization on campus or a new project at your company. Suddenly, people look at you for answers and guidance. The truth is, strong leadership is the backbone of every successful team. Effective leadership takes practice. Luckily, the ‘Cuse Challenge can help! Here are 3 ways outdoor education can help you develop strong leadership skills:

1. You learn how to challengeproblem solve

Outdoor education is a great time for you to be creative and “think outside the box.” Usually there isn’t even a box to begin with! There is no right way to do a single activity. Participants find out quickly how important the willingness to be creative is in problem solving. The options are endless much like in the classroom or the workplace where we are often faced with challenges we must solve. It is up to you to get creative and come up with a solution. Don’t be afraid to think a little bit different!

2. You learn how to communicate:

Knowing how to communicate effectively with your team is essential not only in a challenge course, but also in the workplace. Positive communication is one of the most important characteristics that every group needs. This includes verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, your words, tone, body language, facial expressions, gestures, and vocal sounds (i.e. grunts, sighs, whimpers) are all forms of communication. An effective leader knows how to use all of these forms of communication for the greater good of his or her team.

Helping Up3. You learn to be confident in yourself and others: 

When doing a challenge course, you may learn things about yourself and your teammates that you never knew. For example, you may learn one of your teammates is afraid of heights. What if that teammate panics? Having effective communication between you has helped you to this point, but it may not be enough to bring them back to a state of calmness. Showing your partner that you are confident in not only yourself but also in them will provide the boost your team may need.

Our Groundbreaking Ceremony!

This morning, we held a press conference and officially communicated to the public about the challenge course being open to the SU campus and surrounding community. At the press conference, Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Tom Wolfe and other key campus members kicked off the construction of the challenge course with a groundbreaking ceremony.

As a part of the “groundbreaking,” they held a climbing rope tied in a daisy chain while the students on each end of the rope pulled apart the knot. The daisy chain symbolizes the various sections of the planning, design, construction, and implementation stages of the challenge course and outdoor education center. When pulled by our students, it unraveled the “knots” and released the potential and true nature of the rope, much like the challenge course will soon be opened up for all to use, releasing its true nature and potential to the SU and surrounding community.
After the ceremony, everyone was invited to the Inn Complete to see schematics of the course and photos of the elements.

Ropes-CourseA special thanks to;
Thomas Wolfe: Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs
Rebecca Dayton: Associate Vice President for Student Affairs / Health and Wellness
Kristen Jones-Kolod: Executive Director of Student Affairs Operations
Joe Lore: Director of Recreation Services
Scott Catucci: Associate Director of Recreation Services
Our AMAZING Student Facilitators (Nir and James pictured here)
Doug Tankersley and the entire crew in Campus Design and Construction for their involvement in this project.

See more photos from the groundbreaking.

We are very excited the construction will begin shortly. Be sure to check our blog frequently for updates on the building process!

Welcome CNY Community: The Course is for You Too!

A big thanks to YNN for featuring our exciting news on their morning broadcast!

We are really excited to be opening our new Outdoor Challenge Course to the Central New York community. We can’t wait to serve the various community groups and organizations, with both youth and adults, as well as businesses who may be looking for new ways to implement professional development opportunities. We hope you will find the challenge course beneficial in your team building and leadership initiatives … and let’s not forget how fun it’s going to be!

Throughout the summer, we will post photos and videos of the construction process and the elements. Be sure to check back frequently to view our progress as we work to bring the challenge course to life! More specific details regarding the course, such as the programs and pricing structure, will also be posted this summer.

To schedule your group’s outing, contact Scott Catucci at 315-443-0290 or

Watch us on YNN’s morning broadcast:

Construction will soon be underway for a new outdoor challenge course on the Syracuse University hill. The ‘Cuse Challenge Course will feature high and low rope team building elements, a zip line, and an outdoor education center. YNN’s Brad Vivacqua is on SU’s South Campus where the course will be located.

3 Ways Outdoor Education Helps with Team Building

Teamwork is essential to all you do in life. Whether it is a group project, business meeting, or an adventure course, knowing how to work effectively in groups is a must. Did you know Outdoor Education helps build these skills? Allow us to set the scene for you:

Screen-Shot-2013-04-16-at-4.14.43-PMYou are standing on a 40-foot pole, atop a platform that is just big enough for your feet. Your heart beats rapidly, but you take a leap of faith to catch a trapeze bar hanging 10 feet away… I would think you are, can we say, on the edge of your comfort zone?

Outdoor Education has the ability to take you out of your comfort zone. You will feel afraid, but supportive teammates can help you conquer these fears. Here are three ways outdoor education helps with team building:

1. You learn how to trust your teammates

Flashing back to when you were on the ground looking up at the 40-foot pole, you probably were thinking about backing out. But then, you look down and find your teammates cheering and encouraging you to just take “one more step.” You know they have your back. You can trust them to support you even when your inner voice is telling you to back down. Trust is key to a successful team. When you are doing an adventure course, you have to learn to trust that your teammates and facilitators will help keep you safe. This experience alone can really bond a group of strangers together.

2. You learn how to encourage others

Now that you are back on the ground, you watch one of your teammates try to accomplish the same task. You can sense his or her hesitation and you know that now is the time to step in and provide support. Now it’s your turn to tell your teammate to take just “one more step.” Without that encouragement, your teammate may still be on the ground, wondering how to accomplish such a challenge. Group encouragement and support can go a long way in turning “I can’t” into “I can.” Not only will you appreciate your teams’ encouragement, but you’ll learn how to be supportive of others on your team.

3. You learn how to stay committed

We have all been in situations where we had to work with someone we just did not get along with. Maybe it was a difference in personality or just different visions altogether. Outdoor Education forces you to work through these differences because it will put you in uncomfortable situations that you cannot physically get out of. When you’re on top of a 40-foot pole, quitting is not an option. You have to clear your head and work with your team. You’re forced to remain present and follow through even with the discomfort and fear that creeps up on you. Commitment to finish what you started is something everyone should strive to do, and although there will be challenges, you remind yourself to take the necessary steps to stay committed to your task and team.


Welcome to the ‘Cuse Challenge Course Blog

su-recreation-services-footer-buttonWelcome to the ‘Cuse Challenge Course blog! We are so excited to finally share, publicly, that the Outdoor Education program is bringing adventure to the trees on south campus.

We’re going to be zip-lining [laughing], jumping off pamper poles [screaming], facing fears [sweating], building courage [believing], solving problems [listening], practicing patience [breathing], and becoming better versions of ourselves [evolving] …

It’s official–the outdoor challenge course be open starting fall 2013.

So through the spring and summer, we’ll be posting photos and videos of the construction process and the elements. It’s going to be a really cool experience to watch a facility like this come to life.
We’ll also be sharing stories and information about the benefits of the challenge course and adventure education, hoping to lift your spirits up with ours, high in the trees.