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Rock Climbing for Leadership at the SPDL Kickoff

November 2, 2012

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On my second day of dental school this Fall Semester, I found myself over 20 feet high clinging to the side of a vertical wall. I glanced down for less than one second and I realized just how high I was. With the daunting task of still having to climb higher, I suddenly became aware of the growing tremor in my arms and legs from fatigue and anxiety. My fingers were getting sweaty and felt as if they could not hold on anymore. I knew that there was only one direction I could go and that direction was up, but as I continued my first rock climbing experience I wondered to myself, “What had I gotten myself into?”

I had this rock climbing experience during the SPDL (Scholars Program in Dental Leadership) and Leadership Pathway Kickoff at the University of Michigan Challenge Course. Although I felt overwhelmed and tired, I was in a safety harness and actually tethered to two other climbing classmates. By climbing three at a time, classmates were able to advise each other on climbing techniques, point to the optimal handles to grab onto, and if necessary, were even able to physically grab each other’s arms and pull one-another to better positions on the wall. It was an incredible relief for me to finally reach the top of the wall and be able to repel back to the ground, but I also felt a rush of adrenaline at all that had been accomplished. After my turn, I watched the other dental students, dental hygiene students, and faculty advisors involved with SPDL and Leadership climb the wall and help each other out.

Working as a team was the theme of the day at our Kickoff. Whether we worked as a large group on team-building activities or with just one or two other students on physical activities such as rock climbing, it became necessary to not only think critically for ourselves, but to take advantage of everyone’s unique expertise to accomplish the task. Earlier in the day, we did a team-building activity that required balancing on wooden beams. Balancing had been easy for me because of my prior experience in gymnastics, so I figured rock climbing would come naturally for me too. It soon became clear on the wall, that this was harder than it had seemed when I was on the ground looking up. Therefore, I would not have made it without the help and guidance of my classmates.

Most of the students in the Leadership Pathway or in SPDL decided to take on a leadership project because we are confident in our abilities to work hard and be able to organize projects. Sometimes though, we take on too much to reasonably handle by ourselves, and this is when we must rely on the unique knowledge and abilities of others to complete the project.  As a member of SPDL, I’m glad that I went to the Kickoff, because it not only gave me a chance to spend the day getting to know my dental student and dental hygiene colleagues better, but it also reminded me that all leaders must have the ability to work well with others.

Brittany Strawman is a second year dental student who recently joined the Scholars Program in Dental Leadership. Currently she is the Co-Editorial Director for ASDA and the Editor for Xi Psi Phi. Although she is from Bowling Green, Ohio, she has always cheered for the Wolverines!

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