Leaders emerge at the Emerging Leaders Retreat

By Jocelyn Cano

October 2, 2013

Alongside the clear blue lake and fresh air of the outdoors, around 40 freshmen spent the weekend of Sept. 13 through the 15 in Lake Geneva, Wis. learning about their strengths at this year’s Emerging Leaders Retreat. Through walking high-ropes courses 40 feet in the air, zip lining and other group activities, freshmen learned skills and lessons not taught in the classroom.

The annual Emerging Leaders Retreat, sponsored by the Office of Student Involvement, is geared toward freshmen to teach them leadership skills and help them learn about their strengths and themselves.  Students are put to the test through group activities that challenge them to share their strengths and weaknesses with their group members. These activities teach them how to trust their groups and gain comfort knowing that regardless of what their weaknesses are, their groups will be supportive. The activities for the weekend are specifically put together to create challenges that cannot be accomplished alone.

One such activity included a spiderweb made of ropes, in which the web is tied to two trees and the challenge is to get everyone in the group from one side of the web to the other by using the holes in the web. This requires group members to carry one another through each hole and instill trust in their group.

While freshmen are invited to participate in the retreat, sophomores who went on the trip the previous year are invited to serve as group leaders to help freshmen develop the leadership skills they were taught during their own experiences.

“[I think the purpose is] to figure out your strengths and how to embrace them on campus,” Doris Villaverde, sophomore leader, said.

Through each of the activities, freshmen not only learned team building skills, but also different things about themselves.

 “I learned a lot about my strengths as a leader,” Freshman Melissa DiGiacomo said. “I also learned that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. All I have to do is believe in myself.”

Freshman Daniel Bahena said the retreat allowed him to build trust and teamwork amongst his fellow peers.

“I learned how to be brave and how to speak up for myself,” Bahena said. “Mostly, [I learned] trust because I actually trusted my whole group after I almost fell. In the end, [I] was able to accomplish the task because of that trust.”

Assistant Director of Student Involvement Katie Kramer is in charge of making the entire retreat possible.  This year, Director of University Ministry John DeCostanza, Associate Dean of Students Nora Collins, Graduate Assistant for Student Involvement DuShaun Branch, and Academic Advisor Paul Rodriguez accompanied Kramer at the retreat. They helped keep the students in organized groups and helped put together a bonfire each night of the retreat along with snacks and s’mores.

“I feel like I emerged as a leader after my trip,” DiGiacomo said. “This trip showed me that I could be a leader even in the toughest situations. I know I can make it through anything, even if it is something I never thought I would do!”