Final Debriefings
At the end of the raft-building exercise, the four Outward Bound facilitators -- Mike Futterman, Joan MacDonald, Eric Sterling, and Rosalina Burke -- led each group in a final debriefing of not only the day's events, but also those of the entire program. It was evident to all that the challenges of the four days had brought everyone closer together in an intense shared experience.
The students agreed that the experience of teamwork had been overwhelming. They also felt that they had learned how to trust others, as well as how to accept support from others. "Now, I will put more trust in people, more trust in myself, and more trust in my decision-making abilities. I will take more risks, and feel more confident about them. I will also...support others."
The increased self-esteem and confidence of the women, in particular, strengthened their ability to deal with new things and to take risks. Several of the men admitted they were surprised at the accomplishments of the women, while the women felt the men had proved supportive and caring.
Remarked two students: "I hadn't seen myself as such an adventurous/risk-taking/leader type of person before" and "For these four days and some time afterward I felt full of life and more confident." The students acquired a new understanding of leadership and "followership," as well as the personal understanding that they could take on almost any future challenge and succeed.
In a recent article in The New York Times (September 3, 1996), it was noted that programs like Outward Bound's increase the likelihood that students will stay in school. A professor at the University of New Hampshire has found that 81% of the students who go on such trips were still in school three-and-a- half years later, while only 61% of the control group were. He also found that those who went on the expeditions had higher grades. Noted one engineering student: "I will be more focused and better able to concentrate in school."
In the surveys the students completed before returning home, 87% said the Outward Bound experience improved their teamwork and ability to work in groups. More than 70% said the experience improved their decision-making ability, deepened their self-confidence, strengthened their ability to deal with new things, increased their trust of others, and made them more supportive of others.
Over 80% said the experience increased their willingness to take risks and their enjoyment of physical challenges. Noted one of the engineers: "If you didn't have the positive skills and confidence before, you get them! And if you had them already, they are reinforced."
The students reported that after their Outward Bound activities, the words that best described them were "confident," "sharing," and "supportive." The words that least described them were "failure," "lack of self-esteem," and "argumentative." Before the Outward Bound program, 56% of the students said they "blamed themselves" when they failed an exam; after the Outward Bound program, 74% "blamed no one." Several students noted their competitiveness and stress levels decreased. In reply to the question: "Have you learned anything that is directly applicable to engineering?" 100% of the students replied "teamwork."
Where's Cooper Union's Outward Bound Experiment Bound?
The students chosen for this pilot program were handpicked by the faculty and administration. They were selected on the basis of their already demonstrated leadership potential and their willingness to participate actively in the program and its outcomes. If these students benefitted so much from the program, Cooper is confident that all students will benefit from it. Of the 21 student participants, 100% said that the Outward Bound experience should become part of the engineering education at Cooper Union.
Notes Dean Eleanor Baum: "We weren't really sure if we could achieve our engineering goals with such an unconventionable program, but I am convinced that personal experience is one of life's best teachers. The experiences of these students -- both women and men -- will stay with them for a very long time and will, I hope, be a positive influence in their personal and professional lives. Along with the students, we too have learned that sometimes you just have to take a risk if you want to make a change -- and that's a lesson worth learning at any age."
As the first undergraduate engineering school in the country to incorporate customized Outward Bound activities into its curriculum, Cooper Union expects to provide a model for other engineering schools across the nation. However, funds are needed to expand the program and the engineering school is looking for individual and corporate supporters to sponsor one or more students at $350 per student. If you or your company would be interested in being a Cooper Union/Outward Bound sponsor, please contact Dr. Judith Lyczko at The Cooper Union -- (212)353-4137.
(go back home)