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Extreme bonding

Venture Out takes team building to new heights

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  • Story by Karen Pojmann
  • Photos and audio by Shane Epping
  • Published: July 18, 2008
Venture Out participants reach for the top of the tower

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This month Venture Out led residents and medical students from Mizzou’s Curtis W. and Ann H. Long Department of Family and Community Medicine in a day of intensive team training. Participants photographed include: Landon Hough, Jill Bosanquet, Tiffany Bohon, Brett Moore, Crystal Cook, Lucas Buffaloe, Teejay Soyoye, Margaret Day, Cory Bethmann, Kimetha Fairchild, Jamie Harrison, Thea Bernardo, Casey Williams, Luke Stephens, Donnie Goeller, Nick Greiner and Scott Owen. A transcript is available.

When did Summer Welcome become an extreme sport?

When the folks at Venture Out gathered up 10 newly oriented incoming freshmen — their heads crammed with academic advice, their arms laden with student organization brochures — and whisked them away into the woods for five days of backpacking, camping and accelerated ice-breaking.

Known for fostering team unity through boundary-stretching use of a 60-foot tower and obstacle courses, the Mizzou program Venture Out has offered post-Summer Welcome activities for the past decade. At the end of each session, new students can sign up to climb walls, scale towers and make friends at the Epple Park facilities in Columbia.

But this year Venture Out stepped it up with a Summer Welcome Outdoor Adventure. After tackling the Tiger Climb course and camping outside Columbia, the group backpacked 20 miles in three days along the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas.

“The students saw this opportunity to push themselves beyond where they thought they could go, get to meet that group of 10 people they’ll know throughout their time here and be part of something new,” says Scott Owen, interim coordinator of Venture Out, who led the trip with co-facilitator Krystle Smith.

Forests and friendships

Jordan Elliott, an incoming freshman from a Chicago suburb, admits she had anxiety about the excursion. “I was kind of apprehensive because I thought most of the people would be more experienced,” she says. But she rose to the occasion. “It was really rewarding, something that’s a new interest now. But I think the people were definitely the highlight — just being able to make friends on the trip.”

Making connections was the main goal of freshman Brendan Gibbons, a Colorado native for whom outdoor adventure is second nature. “My parents were putting me in backpacks when I was an infant and carting me up mountain passes and stuff,” the seasoned hiker says. “I just wanted to meet people who might be interested in doing the same sort of things that I like to do.”

Dispersed among states from Missouri to Texas, the 10 participants have kept in touch on Facebook. “At the end it was pretty hard for them to leave each other,” says Owen, who plans to offer two Outdoor Adventure sessions next summer.

A group of Venture Out participants pause to take a photo

At the end of Summer Welcome orientation, Venture Out facilitators led a group of incoming Mizzou freshmen on a five-day backpacking trip. Jordan Elliott (left), Jessica Thompson, Lindsay Lewis, Crystal Mena and Taylor Pickering were among the 10 students who embarked on the adventure.

Experiential education

Established in the early 1990s as “Outdoor Pursuits,” Venture Out has evolved from a Student Recreation Center club for thrill-seeking students into a Student Life-run team-building program for university, corporate and community organizations. Facilitators have worked with teams ranging from Freshman Interest Groups and Residential Life staff to State Farm Insurance employees and at-risk youth. Most come back for more. Owen estimates that nearly 75 percent of participation is repeat business.

Mark Beard, a physician in Mizzou’s School of Medicine, says the Curtis W. and Ann H. Long Department of Family and Community Medicine has used Venture Out during intern orientation for years. The program, he says, helps new doctors build skills and bonds that bolster their work during their three years of residency.

“Interns are able to investigate and develop skills of trust, leadership and problem solving in an outdoor setting,” Beard says. “This has become an ideal program that is a great adjunct to the training and experience that we already offer our interns.”

Risky business?

With 17 physicians and medical students on board during the July session, the family-medicine group would have been prepared had anyone called out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” But Owen says that, thanks to facilitators’ solid training and constant supervision of participants, no medical emergencies have occurred with Venture Out.

Nor has anyone experienced a traumatic psychological breakdown atop the potentially vertigo-inducing 60-foot Alpine Tower, he says. The idea is to nudge participants out of their comfort zones but not into their freak-out zones. “We just ask everyone to set a goal and try to achieve that goal,” Owen says.

Team members with phobias or physical limitations still take part in activities. They can stand on the ground and hold the ropes, for example, belaying their colleagues up and down the tower. Conversely, they can rely on teammates for support. In one group, a student who used a wheelchair was able to able to climb the tower with a little help from his friends.

Though most of the sessions are for groups, individuals can sign up for events such as the happy-hour climb sponsored by the Missouri Students Association. The first one for the 2008-09 school year takes place Sept. 28.

Read more in:  Beyond CampusEducationOn CampusSports

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012