For all appearances, the leadership endurance course could have been a television reality game show. But the contest had some serious goals for students in the UCCS Pre-Collegiate Development Program.
A UCCS institution since 1988, the PCDP creates opportunities for middle and high school students to prepare themselves to attend college. It enhances academic skills so the students may successfully face the rigors and competition involved in getting a college education. According to Josephine Benavidez, director, Pre-Collegiate Development Program, the program grew from 75 students in fall 1997 to almost 700 students this year. It is open to first-generation college-bound students from under-represented groups with a minimum 2.5 grade point average.
“The program provides the edge they need,” she said. “Presently, we have 220 students on campus taking college level courses.”
The program allows students to experience the university environment in the company of educators who are authors, scientists and engineers. The various opportunities include workshops and seminars that last two days, to classes and events lasting much longer. One example is the PCDP Summer Academic Institute 2011, on campus from June 13 to July 18. On June 23, it featured the leadership endurance course.
Teams of high school students performed outlandish stunts and ran obstacle courses. They entered with team names such as Widefield and Sebastian, Team Clyde, The Incredible Hulks and Foxy Ladies. About 60 students competed for prizes such as iPods and gift cards. But the larger prize was an educational experience in leadership.
Michael Hackman, professor, Communication Department, described the event with great enthusiasm. He explained he has used this activity in the honors first-year experience course, Gray Matters, but this was the first event where high school students faced the challenges.
Successfully completing the ten exercises in two hours tested the students’ physical and intellectual abilities. Required tasks included transporting tennis balls and marbles through an obstacle course and solving word puzzles. More imaginative challenges were crawling through a two-foot-by-two-foot cube without touching the sides, flipping a runaway “magic” carpet, and cleaning up a mock toxic waste spill. To succeed at these tasks, students used lessons in leadership and team effectiveness.
“These students exceeded my expectations,” Hackman said. “They clearly demonstrated their leadership abilities by working together as high-performing teams. It was obvious the leadership curriculum these students have been exposed to as part of the Pre-Collegiate Youth Leadership Program and in their credit bearing leadership communication courses at UCCS have paid dividends. They not only completed the tasks by working together, they were also able to articulate the leadership factors that presented obstacles and, when addressed, contributed to their overall success.”
Hackman lauded his partners in creating and supervising the competition. He said the efforts of instructors Liesl Eberhart and Coral Laski along with teaching assistants Garrett Gatlin, Biff Boswell and Svetlana Goncharova contributed to a highly successful event.
Middle school students as early as the sixth grade are planning education beyond high school and participating in the PCDP. Hackman said there are students who have been in the program incrementally for five years, building toward their success as college students.