Schoolchildren to Adults Find Challenge at The EDGE

Posted: June 23, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: June 23, 2010 at 7:27 am

By Ethan Vaughan

When John Carter, a junior at Liberty University, first signed up to be a counselor for Camp Freedom, a summer recreational camp for children run by Mason’s Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center, he never imagined his training would involve climbing a tower 50 feet high with a harness and rope around his waist.

Carter was one of 57 young people, mostly current college students, who headed out to Mason’s Prince William Campus on June 7 to take part in The EDGE, (energize, develop, grow, excel), Mason’s new challenge and team building course.

“It teaches you how to be a team and how to communicate,” Carter says. “You have to trust someone who’s holding the rope. They’re getting you down to safety. If you can trust someone on the challenge course, you can trust them to work with you.”

The students were there learning to be counselors, but The EDGE is by no means limited to undergraduates.


Susan Johnson, manager for Mason’s Center for Team and
Organizational Learning, talks about future plans for The EDGE.

“The EDGE serves everyone from fifth graders to corporate adults,” says Susan Johnson, manager for Mason’s Center for Team and Organizational Learning. “The EDGE is a team-development course that uses experiential education activities to teach communication and leadership skills, develop trust and encourage group bonding.”

The course opened on Oct. 1, 2009, after three months of construction and has since attracted clients from all over Northern Virginia. By this fall, more than 5,000 people will have participated in a program at The EDGE.

Learning takes place using a wide assortment of experiential activities and simulations, including traditional low- and high-challenge course elements.

The EDGE offers hundreds of possible activities, pared down by staff members who tailor the challenge course experience to meet the needs of individual groups.

At its heart is the Alpine Tower, which resembles a giant wooden jungle-gym ascending into the sky. The other two “flagship elements” include the Total Team Challenge and the Excel Series, a set of wooden structures that participants, using boards and ropes, must cross strategically as a team.

“It’s a good way to start off getting to know each other,” says Shannon Arrai, a junior at James Madison University who will also be a Freedom Camp counselor. “It gives you ideas to do with the kids [at the camp].”

“It was a good first day,” adds Natalie Brayley, a junior at Virginia Tech and counselor-in-training. “I like being outside so much. [In coming to The EDGE] I’m more driven by my hobbies and what I like to do outside of school. I’m excited.”

There are plans for Mason freshmen enrolled in the University 100 course to experience the challenge course in the fall. Johnson hopes their participation will aid them as they transition from high school.

“They’re all going to be brand-new students,” she explains. “It will get the jitters out of their system and get them to know other freshmen. They’ll probably meet someone in the group they’ll connect with, and they’ll learn about Mason at the same time, which will help them feel more a part of the Mason community.”

Through fall 2010, about 20 groups from Mason — including nearly 1,500 students — have or will have experienced The EDGE as a team-building exercise. For more information, see the website. To arrange a group program, contact Sue Czarnetzky, challenge course sales account manager, at 703-993-4313.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu