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Learning the Ropes

Hiking, camping, and problem solving in Tuck’s newest outdoor orientation program

The class of 2013 is getting its first taste of business school this week, and part of that means settling into pre-assigned study groups—teams of five or six students of diverse backgrounds. They will work together over the course of the year to complete assignments and learn the importance of group dynamics in accomplishing goals. But before their collaboration skills are tested in the classroom, 40 students challenged themselves outside, in Outdoor Trips, Tuck’s outdoor orientation program that occurs during the last two weeks of August.

Just two years old, Outdoor Trips is modeled after its counterpart at Dartmouth College, an orientation program run for decades by the Dartmouth Outing Club that takes students backpacking in the White Mountains. At Tuck, the program is approximately one week long and features a mix of team-building exercises and outdoor adventures of varying intensities.

The week starts with an orienteering course that pits two teams against each other in a race to collect items hidden around Storrs Pond, a swimming and camping area near campus. An added twist is that only a few of the team members are taught the necessary orienteering skills to complete the course, and they must teach those skills to the rest of the team.

The next day, Outward Bound guides lead students through a low or high ropes course. During one of the low ropes courses this year, eight students were faced with traversing a wire horizontal triangle about one foot off the ground, where all of them started outside the triangle and had to end up inside it, without touching the ground. Students positioned themselves strategically along the wire to help their teammates, making the wire taut with their weight and reaching out to guide people along. Afterward, they debriefed about the exercise. “I found that even a little support was enough to keep you balanced,” one student noted. “I had a hard time envisioning the rules,” said another.

Alex Chu, one of the Outward Bound guides, said he’s run programs like this for other business schools, but that Tuck’s is different because the entire week takes place close to campus, so students aren’t just learning about their classmates but their new home as well.

Trip leader Dan Philp D’03, T’12 agreed. In addition to becoming familiar with Storrs Pond and Oak Hill, where the Dartmouth cross-country skiing trails are located, his group hiked around the Dartmouth Skiway and nearby Smarts and Moose mountains. They also stayed at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a Dartmouth-owned cabin at the base of the 4,802-foot Mt. Moosilauke, and hiked to its windswept granite summit. “I think Outdoor Trips is a great introduction to some of our most valuable assets,” he said. “No other business school has thousands of acres of wilderness around it.”

Of course, geography isn’t the only lesson. Each day featured some activity that required teamwork and negotiation, from route-finding to carrying gear and solving conundrums in the ropes courses. “I think you saw some of the same leadership traits you would see in a study group, especially the need for communication and participation,” Philp said.