Construction Update!

IMG_5398-1024x768 IMG_5397-1024x768 If a picture says a thousand words, then you can see how the course is taking shape! The top two pictures detail the challenge course and the towers, the third shows the Outdoor Education Center looking down from the path which leads up to the challenge course on top of the hill. One side of the course will house two levels of “static belayed” high elements, allowing up to 6 individuals the capacity to traverse these elements together. The right side of the course will house two levels of more traditional “dynamic belayed” elements, focusing more on the individual and their efforts within a group. More detail on element construction to follow in the next week!




The 'Cuse Challenge interviews Laura Sowalskie

There isn’t much Laura Sowalskie fears. I mean, she’s practically done it all! Coming in as a freshman with knowledge of ropes, knots, and belaying, it was no surprise she turned to the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (LOOP) to fulfill her need for adventure. Not only has she climbed the elements of Syracuse University’s Flanagan Gym ropes courses “more times than [she] can count, ” but also she’s braved the challenge courses at Oswegatchie Educational Center and Adirondack Extreme Adventure. A natural leader, Sowalskie became a facilitator for the challenge course as a sophomore and has been working with Recreation Services ever since! Read below to find out how ropes courses have changed her life and the advice she has for those who wish to give it a try:

LS 4Tell us about your experiences on the challenge course. What sort of activities did you do? What was your most memorable activity?

LS: I had my first challenge course experience at the Oswegatchie Educational Center during the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (LOOP). I’ve been there 3 times now; twice with LOOP (first as an incoming student, then as a student leader) and once with a group called the Student Leadership Institute. I’ve climbed the elements of Flanagan Gym ropes course here at SU more times than I can count. I’ve also completed Adirondack Extreme Adventure with my family. I’ve done a ton of different elements including giant swings, zip-lines, and lots of climbing-related elements. My favorites are the more complex climbing elements that include traverses and extra challenges up in the air. I attended a few training sessions for the indoor ropes course my freshman year. I came in with knowledge of ropes, knots and belaying from rock climbing with the SU Outing Club. My sophomore year, I enrolled in the Adventure Activities class with Scott Catucci which really solidified my group facilitation and ropes course-specific skills. After completing the class, I started working as a facilitator.

It seems like you’ve done it all! What do you hope to accomplish this semester on the ropes course?

LS: Despite my comfort in the air, there is one element that I have yet to conquer. It involves climbing up a pole, balancing on the top and jumping off to grab a trapeze bar. I can fly up that pole and stand right up, but every time I’ve leapt off, the trapeze bar has remained just out of my grasp. Everyone has their own trapeze bar. It could be a different element. For some, it could be putting their trust in someone else and accepting that they won’t hit the ground if they fall. For others, it could be overcoming their fears and just getting themselves off the ground. For a few, every element on the course may be a breeze, but the idea of opening up to their team members may terrify them. My goal as a facilitator is to help everyone reach for their trapeze bar. Not everyone will grab it, but I want to get them as close as possible.

Why do you think outdoor education is important?

LS: I think outdoor education is awesome because it puts people in a non-traditional learning environment. This is especially important for students because they already spend enough time sitting in classrooms being lectured. Our goal when leading students through challenge course activities, is not to teach a direct lesson, but to encourage them to learn by doing. Different people will take away different lessons from an activity. Many learn that they are capable of more than they thought they were. Others learn to rely on their peers to help them through sticky situations. Just about everyone leaves with a sense of accomplishment.

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?

LS: Going through a ropes course with a team is an amazing bonding experience. It helps a group really get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned that I naturally try to take charge of situations. When given a problem to solve in a group, I often take the lead and direct others. Going through challenge courses has helped me realize that sometimes I need to take a step back and allow someone else to take the lead.

What sort of professional and/or personal skills did you develop while participating in the challenge course program?

LS: Working on the challenge course has improved my communication skills, and my ability to work with different types of people. Most of all I’ve developed patience and understanding. Personally, I have very little fear of heights or falling. I’m almost as comfortable thirty feet in the air as I am on the ground. Most people do not have that same level of comfort on high ropes elements. My experiences as a participant, and especially as a facilitator have helped me understand how scary the experience can be for other people. Some people need that encouragement and support from others in order to overcome their fears.

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

LS: I’m excited to work outside! I’m definitely an outdoorsy person. Although I love our indoor challenge course, there’s a real thrill that comes from climbing around in the trees and fresh air that’s not quite there in a gym. I’m also pumped about the new student facilitation team! For a while there were only a few of us certified to work the indoor course. For the past couple weeks I’ve had the privilege of working alongside an awesome group of people who will be among the first to work on the outdoor course.

Any tips or advice for people who have never done a challenge course?

LS: Try everything. Even if you climb five feet up and decide you want to come back down, that’s five feet higher than you would have gotten if you’d stayed on the ground. Don’t compare yourself to other people; your only rival is yourself. If you’re overcoming your fears, you’re succeeding.

3 Ways Outdoor Education Helps You Build Confidence

rooseveltWhether you are a student or a seasoned vet in the workplace, confidence is key to all that you do. It is important to believe in yourself otherwise negative messages from naysayers will hold you back from reaching your full potential. When people think of outdoor education, they usually think ‘adventure’ ‘team building‘ ‘leadership.’ These are all important factors, but there is so much more to gain from a challenge course. Confidence, for example, is a skill that can be developed.

Confidence takes time to build, so for those of you who are struggling, we hope you will consider doing the ‘Cuse Challenge Course as a way to begin your journey towards better self esteem. Here are 3 ways outdoor education can help you build confidence:

You learn to take pride in your achievements

Before you undergo a challenge course, you should set goals for yourself. Then, go out there and accomplish them! One of the best things about challenge courses is there is something for everyone. One activity may seem a little bit too intimidating for you, but another activity may be right up your alley. Take pride in your successes!

You learn to support others

When you undergo a challenge course with a team, a lot of real emotions and feelings come out. For example, you may find out one of your teammates is deathly afraid of heights. By encouraging them, you become their ally. Being confident does not always have to be about the “me,” it could simply be showing grace and support for others. And remember, showing genuine support is one of the most important qualities of great leaders.

You learn to break out of your comfort zone

There is no greater moment to step outside your comfort zone than when you are doing a challenge course! Confident people constantly try new things because they are not afraid of failure. Don’t hold yourself back because you are paralyzed with fear of the unknown.  There are so many exciting activities to do in a challenge course. It is important to know your limits, but do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something new!

The First Pole Gets Planted!

1st pole2It’s official, we watched as the first pole on our new challenge course was placed and planted into the ground last Friday! It was an Epic day, and from there, 19 more went into the ground. The high element “Triple Leap of Faith” has been placed as well.. Looking forward to seeing you all on course this fall!


The Poles Have Arrived!

poles-arrived-1024x768The poles have arrived, and the crew from Alpine Towers is working on digging holes and placing poles! By the end of the week, we should have poles in the ground, which means tower and element construction can get underway next week. Super excited to watch this course get built, are you? Keep checking back as I will be posting new construction photos as progress is made….

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.

CNY Central takes the ‘Cuse Challenge

Bean-Pole-1-682x1024Talk about action news! On May 28, Brandon Roth from “Today in Central New York” came out to our Flanagan Gym indoor challenge course, to take part in the ‘Cuse Challenge!
Although Brandon struggled slightly with the High Swinging Beam (one of hardest indoor challenge course elements we have) he was able to stay persistent, focus on the task at hand, and accomplish his goal, which was to make it to the top of the rope ladder and traverse the swinging beam, 25 feet in the air! Check out this live video segment which aired at 6:00am on May 28.

Video: Brandon Roth takes the ‘Cuse Challenge


‘Cuse Challenge on "Bridge Street"

ropes_007The crew from “Bridge Street” was here in our Flanagan Gym last week, filming and interviewing one of our student employees as she challenged herself on the “High Swinging Beam” one of our indoor high elements. It was a great experience, to see one of our students conquer the fear she had of heights, and challenge herself to step outside of her comfort zone, push past her self-imposed limits, and complete the element. This is the essence of the challenge course; engaging people in activities and conversations that help them identify how to be successful in their goals, no matter what they are trying to accomplish.