Facilitation: A platform for Diversity and Inclusion

Makaylaprofesh Dearborn is a Senior at Syracuse studying Biology and Policy Studies. After graduation in the Spring she is planning on moving to Seattle for a year before attending medical school to focus on a path in pediatrics. Makayla has been a facilitator and trip leader since her freshman year. She loves facilitating because of the underlying philosophies and says that it has taught her as much as any of her classes while here at Syracuse.

Diversity and Inclusion are two key words that are constantly talked about in and outside of a classroom. However, in most aspects of our lives, it seems as though diversity and differences are something to be ashamed of rather praised. As humans, we tend to think of anything that goes against the status quo as “weird” or “bad”. In actuality, it is all of our differences that make us special and they should be celebrated rather than hidden. Luckily, through facilitating I have found a forum in which some of the core values are diversity and inclusion.


Many of the activities that we facilitate have to do with teamwork. A major part of teamwork is communication and listening to each other’s ideas. If everyone had the same idea, there would be no progress in the world. Being able to balance everyone’s ideas and work out creative solutions is only possible by accepting diverse ideas. Additionally, everyone in a team will have very different skills. It is by making the best use of these individual skills that a team can be most successful. Furthermore, people come from different backgrounds; everyone has lived a different story so to dismiss one person’s idea would be irresponsible because they may have experienced something that another person has not.

Through different activities, it is possible to demonstrate the need for everyone to be included for the most successful outcome. They allow for a platform for people to open up and display what makes them unique and why that is beneficial.


Everyone has different strengths but everyone also has different weaknesses. These could be emotional or physical weaknesses. However, with facilitation it is easy to adapt different activities to fit everyone’s needs. As a facilitator it is crucial to be able to read the dynamics of the group and appropriately adjust the activity. The goal is to keep everyone involved at all times. In a group, there is naturally going to be leaders, team members, and supporters. However, all are needed to be successful so everyone must participate even if it is in different ways.

Additionally, all activities that we do are “challenge by choice”. This means that if a person does not want to participate in a certain activity, they do not have to. Even if they are simply cheering on the group, they can still remain engaged with the group and feel included.


Diversity and Inclusion are two words that need to be integrated more into everyday life. Fortunately, facilitating provides a platform for focusing on improving those elements. It is important to celebrate individual differences and be inclusive in all aspects. As Aristotle once said, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

Keeping Your Cool

Clayton Davidson is a senior at Syracuse University studying Accounting and Management. Originally from New Jersey, Clayton will be working for Crowe Horwath LLP in New York City after graduation. Clayton was a member of the first group of facilitators hired to work on the outdoor challenge course and has been working programs since his sophomore year. Now, Clayton works as a supervisor for the challenge course, working programs regularly on the weekends as well as assisting with training for new facilitators.

SnowyOdysseyHere at Syracuse, we are “fortunate” enough to experience both the highs and lows of the temperature spectrum. Although we close the Outdoor Challenge Course during the winter months, the facilitators run programs in just about every type of weather, from the hottest days in July and August to the freezing cold wind and rain that comes every November. The weather creates an entirely new challenge to the course and it can often times create conflict for both the participants and the facilitators.

When facing the uncertainty of Syracuse weather, one of the best ways that a group can help themselves is BEING PREPARED! Bringing water and the proper clothing can make or break a group’s challenge course experience, especially when the cold weather comes. Additionally, when a group comes to the course with a positive attitude and continues to encourage each other, they are already set up for success.

Although we try and minimize all possible hazards on the course, the weather is one thing that we cannot control and sometimes, a group can allow the less than ideal conditions to ruin their experience. Whether everyone is sweating from the heat or freezing from the cold, the only way to enjoy your day on the challenge course is to keep their positive attitude, and the best way to do that is to stay focused on the task at hand. Staying focused allows the group to think clearly and complete tasks in a more efficient way and when a group is doing well, the energy that the group has is most often positive. And when a group is staying positive and having fun, not even the weather can stop them.

As facilitators, we attempt to keep the participants engaged in various ways: choosing more active activities to keep groups moving around in the cold, doing less taxing exercises and taking breaks when it is really hot out, or even something as simple as move the group to a shady or less windy spot when we have the option. Modifying a program or activity is something that facilitators do on a regular basis that participants may not even recognize. This is one of the best ways we can mitigate the weather and ensure that the group has a positive experience that they will remember for years to come.

Learning Life’s Lessons as a Facilitator

ErinRose CarrErinRose Carr is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University, double majoring in Marketing Management and Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises in the Whitman School of Management. A native of Northern New Jersey, she hopes to work as a large scale athletic events coordinator. ErinRose has been involved with Recreation Services since her first day on campus. She attended the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (LOOP) and began working as a trip leader that fall. Since then, she has completed her training on the challenge course and has become a supervisor for both outdoor adventure trips and challenge course programs. ErinRose currently supervises a wide array of programs, assists with interviewing and training new student staff members and recently has been working on our marketing campaign. In addition to working at Recreation Services, she currently works as a personal trainer at SU, is the Associate Captain for the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team and works as an intern for a North Jersey based mud run company.



I have been involved with Recreation Services since the day I arrived to Syracuse University. I attended the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (L.O.O.P.) for incoming freshmen, where the orientation leaders told us about all the opportunities for SU students to be involved with Recreation Services. I began working as a trip leader three weeks into my freshman year. That following spring, Scott, the Associate Director of Outdoor Education and Student Development, and Lauren, the Program Coordinator for Outdoor Education, recommended that I be trained to work on the outdoor and indoor ropes course. To be honest, I was a little hesitant. By no means am I afraid of heights or being on a ropes course. However, I was very nervous about learning the skills necessary to become a successful facilitator. With training, time and practice, I began to learn many of the skills that our most successful challenge course facilitators possess both on and off the challenge course.

Cooperation and Teamwork

Though we as staff members are not participants, we still must employ teamwork every time we step onto the course. Whether it be preparing for a program, performing zip exits with another facilitator, or working with our groups, it is vital for us to work together as a team. We work as a well oiled machine because of our constant practice at working as a team. We as individual facilitators all have differing styles in the way we work with groups, which is effected by our personalities, mannerisms and our level of experience. However, though our style is consistent the exact way we facilitate does not stand constant with each group because no two groups of participants on the course are alike. Therefore, we cannot facilitate any two groups the exact same way. For this reason, we often have to adapt the way we explain an element as well as its level of difficulty that we give a group. Different groups, due to their composition and social structure, respond to different things in different ways.

While working with a group on the course, our number one goal as facilitators is to improve the group’s communication. We strive to get them to be more familiar with each other and more comfortable trusting one another. This goes for groups of college students, middle or high school aged students and even corporate groups. We as facilitators, through practice and experience have learned the recipe for ropes course success. With time and patience, facilitators are able to work with groups and help guide them to success. By success, I do not necessarily mean successfully completing an element at its highest difficulty, even though that is an accomplishment within itself. I mean that our groups achieve the goal of communication and teamwork while working through an element.

However, our goal does not simply end when our group leaves the challenge course. Though we are no longer present when they leave us, we want the experience we provided to them on the course to transition into their work or class environment and into their personal lives. We want to better our participants as communicators, team players, and leaders and help them bring the skills that they used on the course to be successful or work as a team, into their day to day lives to benefit themselves and the group they participated with.

Listening and Interpreting

Since I began working on the challenge course, I have realized how important body language is. For example, if a participant is scared of heights, they often do not vocalize their fear. When someone is scared they often fixate on an object located on one of the platforms, the facilitator, another participant or they stare at the ground. We as facilitators have become adept at recognizing these internalized emotions and responding to them by adjusting our method of facilitation.

Listening to our groups and interpreting their body language helps us, as facilitators, to become more aware of a participant’s uneasiness even when they are not vocalizing their feelings. It is important for us to remember that even though a participant may not say “they need help,” they sometimes do need help.  It is important for us to listen to what all our participants communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, as it may have an impact on how the group performs.

Problem Solving

Facilitators must often do some problem solving to determine the best tactics for a particular group. With our various groups, we have to put time and effort into coming up with the best plan for them to achieve their goals. However, we cannot always do it ahead of time because, like I mentioned earlier, no two groups are alike. We as facilitators often guide the dialogue that occurs among the group which can help them to solve problems on the course as a team. We can determine how easy or difficult a task is for them by offering them subtle hints or very specific instructions.


When I first began working on the challenge course, I was under the common misconception that the only purpose was for participants to challenge themselves, whether that be by just getting up on the course or by completing a difficult group task. However, there is more involved in our facilitation strategy. The premise of the way we run the SU challenge course is to have our groups work as a team, whether it be to introduce them to one another, to help them to work together or to help them resolve their differences. Participants often go through the five phases of group development; forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. When a group is going through these phases they often struggle and require extended time to complete a task. Although this is sometimes hard to watch, a group’s struggles can make for a sweeter success. Struggles allow a group more room to talk and discuss a process rather then coming to a quick conclusion and successfully completing an element. When a group struggles they must take time and listen to their group members in order to come up with a solution which is one of the best ways, if not the best way that helps guide a groups growth while being on the course.


Even though I have only been a challenge course facilitator for less then a year, I have already noticed that I have grown both personally and professionally in all of the facets I have discussed in this post. Being a challenge course facilitator allows you to experience moments that you would not experience without this job. It allows you to witness success and struggle and be able to lead a group and aid them. Being a facilitator has by far been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I love being able to throw my facilitator shirt in the laundry when I get home after a program and know that I have helped a group, whether it was just to help them get to know each other better, or to resolve personal or professional differences, but I always leave the course knowing that I have been able to leave a mark on the group that I facilitated.

Written by: ErinRose Carr


Facilitation Skills: Beyond the Challenge Course

Clayton Davidson headshotClayton Davidson is a senior at Syracuse University studying Accounting and Management. Originally from New Jersey, Clayton plans to enter the workforce, possibly in a business consulting role. Clayton was a member of the first group of facilitators hired to work on the outdoor challenge course and has been working programs since his sophomore year. Now, Clayton works as a supervisor for the challenge course, working programs regularly on the weekends as well as assisting with training for new facilitators.


Since I was a kid, I have loved being outdoors and challenging myself both mentally and physically. When I came to Syracuse, although my love of the outdoors was still there, it became increasingly difficult to find ways to feed my passion. At the end of my freshman year, I found my solution: to become a SU Challenge Course Facilitator. Now going into my third year of working at what I consider to be the best job on campus, I realized that I have taken away from my experiences out on the course then just enjoying being outdoors and looking out at the beautiful view of the campus.

One of the aspects of facilitation that really resonates beyond the challenge course is the ability to work in teams. Even though I am not a “participant” in the groups that I am able to lead through activities and elements, I am still a member of the group. That being said, no two groups work, think, or act the same way. This has given me the ability to adapt my facilitation style to not only meet the needs of the group but the dynamics of the group as well. Not only am I a part of the group that is doing the Challenge Course, but I am also part of the facilitators group that all work together to make these programs run. Without all of us working together and managing the “behind-the-scenes” work that the group doesn’t necessarily notice, these programs would not be able to work as well as they so often do.

Communication is one of the biggest takeaways from being a facilitator on the course. From speaking with all of the different groups that come through the course, I can now say that I feel comfortable speaking in front of just about anyone. Leading groups through the different elements has allowed me to hone my communication skills where I can now speak in the most clear and concise way possible.

When I think of the word “facilitation” now, I immediately think of “consulting.” When we are working with these groups, we as facilitators are attempting to help these groups become more effective and efficient, solve problems, think outside the box to come up with new ideas and find better ways to conquer a task. As a business student, I have become more and more interested in the consulting industry and being a facilitator as allowed me to hone the skills that are necessary to work in that field.

What started as just a cool job for me has changed my life in more ways than I can imagine. I have met a whole new groups of people, both current and former students as well as professionals in the industry. My skills in working with teams, communication and feeling confident in uncomfortable situations have made me not only a better facilitator, but a better student and a better future business man.

If you are looking for a job on campus that is different than anything you have experienced before, check out the Syracuse University Challenge Course. Not only will you have a great time doing it, but you will also improve your interpersonal skills and develop a new way of thinking that can be used in any field and situation.


Written by: Clayton Davidson

Teamwork Technology

Challenge Courses are traditionally an outside, hands on learning experience, and because they are outside we tend to turn off our cell phones, walk into the woods, and disconnect from the world for a little while. During this disconnected period, we reflect on the experiences we are having and how we can take our new found knowledge back to the real world.

It is becoming harder and harder to get people “disconnected” from the world during team building programs, especially when those programs are occurring in gyms and classroom settings. So how can you use traditional team building concepts and incorporate technology at the same time? Below are a few ideas:


Picture Debrief:

  • Provide participants with a set of cards with commonly used words in de-briefing (For example: inclusion, trust, planning, communication, etc.) and a wide variety of props.
  • Ask the group to take their phone, a partner, a word card, and some props that describe the answer to a specific question and go take a picture.
  • Allow them to roam to take their pictures and give them a time limit or signal to come back.

Big thanks to Mandy Stewart for this fantastic idea!


Smartphone Sentences:

  • Split the group in half (or have the activity going with multiple groups). Ask each mini group to use their smartphones to take pictures. When they are lined up the pictures should “spell out” a sentence.
  • Once all the groups have their sentence they will share it with the other groups, who must figure out what the sentence is.
  • Think charades with smartphones instead of motions.

Thanks to Ako Johnson for this one!


Communication with texting:

You can use text messaging as a form of communication in many activities. Choose an appropriate activity, such as a structure build activity and split the group in half. Separate our two groups between rooms or far enough distances that they cannot communicate or see each other well. Give group A the materials needed for the build and Group B instructions on how to build the object (or instructions with just enough details for them to figure it out). The two groups can communicate but only via text message (not photos unless appropriate).  The two groups will have to collaborate and learn to use the right wording to help the two sides solve the puzzle / build. Some activities you could do this with:

  • A traditional 50 piece puzzle with large pieces (Group A has the picture Group B the pieces).
  • Scavenger hunt (Group A’s clue sends Group B to clue # 2, Clue # 2 sends Group A to Clue 3 and back and forth. Each group has a designated area in which they               must stay so the groups can’t combine)


A few considerations when using cellphones:

  • Make sure your participants are willing to use their cell phone.
  • If using an activity that requires texting, be aware that while most people have unlimited texting not everyone does.
  • Design activities that require a few  cell phones, not everyone to have their own.

The social chameleon

In nature, the chameleon has the ability to blend with its surroundings.  With this ability the chameleon is able to convince other animals that it belongs in that place, they become part of their surroundings and are hard to notice.  If you met me my freshmen year you would probably agree that I was a chameleon that would turn bright yellow when trying to hide in a tree.  I was afraid to interact with my surroundings, especially in a social situation.  I stood out like a sore thumb because I was uncomfortable interacting with people that I didn’t know.  People who meet me now would be surprised to hear that I was ever afraid to interact with someone I didn’t know.

Being an outdoor education facilitator has been a large part of the process which helped me become more of a social chameleon.  As a facilitator your job is to give a group of people, who you likely know no one in, a positive experience and teach them about things like leadership and teamwork.  Through the process of learning to be a facilitator and a leader, and practicing by working with groups consistently, I have become comfortable talking to and leading groups of people that I know little to nothing about.

This skill also transferred into my personal life and my interactions with people around me.  I realized that, in facilitation, people are more likely to go along with what you want them to do and have enthusiasm if you make them feel comfortable around you, if you blend into the group.  My style of making people comfortable and able to trust me is by building a friendly relationship with them.  Facilitation gave me opportunities to work on this skill to the point that I was eventually able to apply it to my personal life.  I used to be nervous leading a group, but I eventually was able to turn my nervousness into enthusiasm which in turn made me look more confident in my job and created a more comfortable environment with the group I was working with.

Recently I was asked to give a presentation to a group of Lockheed Martin employees about some of the work that I had done.  Needless to say I was nervous.  However, after the presentation was over I was complimented on my enthusiasm and ability to interact with the employees that were asking questions.  These skills were cultivated by my experiences through my job as a facilitator.  I not only had the opportunity to develop these lessons and skills, but I was able to do it while working at a job that I was happy to show up to every time. ​

By: Ryan Wiese

Real World Skills

When people hear the words “Challenge Course” and “Goals” everyone has the same first thoughts: Teamwork, Communication, and Leadership. While all of those are important skills they are just a few that participants may learn. In fact there are some skills participants may not even realize they are taking back to the “real world” at the end of the day!

1. How to give helpful feedback

We often don’t realize that communication is more than just talking at each other, it’s about being on the same page. I often find that we, as human beings, are not so great at giving or receiving feedback. Why? Simply put, we are scared. We do not want to be told what’s wrong with us, or what we did wrong, or anything that could be viewed as negative. However, when we do receive feedback we also aren’t sure how to deal with the information or the person giving it to us. During De-briefing experiences on the challenge course we often talk about group feedback. How did we do as a group? What could the group improve on? As we continue to move through the program participants begin to realize that it’s not just about “The Group” it’s about the individuals that make up the group. These participants have to quickly learn how to give and receive feedback to both the group and the individual without pointing fingers, assigning blame, or having hurt feelings.

2. How to “Think Outside the Box”

We all know what the phrase “think outside the box” means. What we don’t know, is how to actually think in this manner. We often give groups activities that involve problem-solving in order to give them a common goal. While some of the “answers” are fairly straight forward, most involve “thinking outside the box.” Most people think you have to be talented, lucky, or have something the rest of us don’t in order to “think outside the box”.  However, all that you need to do is learn to change your perspective, and look at the world a little differently than you’re used to. We all get into our routines (i.e. we wake up, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, etc.) and because of this so does our brain. When you participate in a challenge course program, nothing is a part of your normal routine, and therefore you must learn to change your perspective, and thus you begin “thinking outside the box”

3. Confidence in Others

When I think about helping with confidence on a challenge course, I often think of teaching someone to reach outside their comfort zone, be successful, and gain confidence. However, I often find I am also helping them build confidence in others. For example on our high ropes Odyssey course groups must learn to lean on each other (literally and metaphorically) in order to be successful. As they move through more sections of the course they begin to trust and have confidence in what others of their group say and tell them to do.

These are just a select few of the skills and benefits you can gain from a challenge course program. A list of all skills you could gain would go on, and on, and on, and….well you get the point. In the end what you take away from a program comes down to one thing: What you and your group need.

Summer’s Comin’ In… and it’s goin’ outta style!

cropped-IMG_0990.jpgMay 2014

Summer is finally here (unofficially) and the SU Outdoor Challenge Course is up and running! We started the month of April with training, getting both returning facilitators refreshed and new facilitators trained. We hosted one of our favorite trainers, Kevin “Doc” Klein, who showed our facilitation staff the ropes, so to speak, as well as providing his unique style and insight into the processing aspects of challenge course facilitation. May started out slowly, but ended with a bang. On May 17 & 18 we had a blast hosting a weekend training session with community facilitators from the CNY region. During this training we were able to share new ideas, teach old ones, and laugh about ones that didn’t work as well as planned. Because of this training we were able to make connections, build friendships and introduce people to our “Odyssey” style challenge course, as well as the zip-line and triple leap of faith.

The later part of May brought a group that our facilitators won’t forget for quite some time… The Syracuse SWAT team participated in a four hour long, team building, fun, and slightly crazy time. In the end they showed how teams strive, work, and finish… together. We are looking forward to all the groups we’ll be working with over the course of the summer! Hope to see you “On Belay”!


It was a grand opening.. and a beautiful day!


Well, it’s official! We held our grand opening and official dedication ceremony on Tuesday October 8, which means the challenge course is open for business! It was a beautiful morning on the course, and with the Syracuse skyline in the backdrop, we couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect moment. The metaphor of taking a “leap of faith” was not lost on us, as we opened the ceremony by literally having one of our fellow facilitators jump from the 30 foot “leap of faith” which symbolically opened the new outdoor challenge course! It has been an amazing experience in bringing this program and facility to life, and I cant help but reflect on all of the people who have supported this endeavor from vision to reality. Thank you all for your encouragement and support, we look forward to seeing you “on belay”.

Element Highlight: The Zip line

ITS Info Security Team On Ropes Course Challenge South Campus Recreation Services
ITS Info Security Team On Ropes Course Challenge South Campus Recreation Services


As our opening date approaches, we will begin to share more details about the challenge course. We hope you’re all as excited as we are! One of the high elements we will have on the course is the zip line. Imagine being high up in the air with only a rope, harness, and pulley to hold you up. You’re soaring past trees and checking out the scenery as the wind whips behind your hair. This is the very nature of the zip line. For many people, the zip line is the highlight of their challenge course experience. It’s a thrilling adventure and one you definitely don’t want to miss out on. We hope all you zip line enthusiasts are excited because we sure are! If you have never experienced the zip line, then look no further! The ‘Cuse Challenge is the perfect place to experience new things.

If you have any questions about the zip line or other elements of the challenge course, please contact Scott Catucci at 315-443-0290 or