For more than 20 years, Utica College has offered students an opportunity to attend Leadership Weekend, where skills would be learned during a weekend trip to Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks.
Under normal circumstances, 36 students would perform physical activities and bonding sessions within the wilderness of New York State. During the course of the weekend, students communicate with others and participate in activities such as rope courses, hiking and critical thinking exercises.
However, the traveling and collaborative hands-on activities have been postponed by COVID-19.
Precautions have been taken to make Leadership Weekend safer. The number of students eligible for the experience has been lowered to only 20 to accommodate social distancing, while the workshops will remain on campus.
The event will be shorter than the usual weekend and will encompass only an afternoon and a full day.
From 3 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25, students will gather together with provided meals and perform activities while wearing their masks according to guidelines. The program will run from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. the following day.
Despite this change of scenery, students are encouraged to attend. Leadership Weekend exposes all types of students, including bright-eyed freshmen to mature seniors, to all aspects of being a leader, with previous attendees promoting the experience.
“Push yourself outside of your comfort zone,” said Brittany Wilcox, a senior. “The weekend is only as much as you make it to be.”
Wilcox is a nursing major who attended the 2019 Leadership Weekend as a mentor. She went as an attendee for two years before donning the responsibility of a mentor. Her favorite memory of the previous year was when her mentees encouraged her to face her fears on the zip line.
“It really showed that my team had been listening to me about the importance of encouraging others,” Wilcox said.
This leadership program grew from the Student Government Association and expanded into a campus-wide experience for students of all levels and majors. While facilitators, attendees and mentors rotate over the years, the overall message remains the same: becoming a leader. There has been some uncertainty regarding student interest because the travel aspect has been taken away.
“I do think that having to hold the event on campus will affect the interest,” Wilcox said. “Part of the fun of the weekend is getting away from campus, school and stress.”
While the allure may have been an escape from campus, college officials still think that there are long-term benefits that can come from Leadership Weekend.
“There are always friendships that will create super tight bonds in a very short amount of time,” Assistant Director for Leadership Development Bethany VanBenschoten said. “We put a big emphasis on application, so students walk away from this experience with more confidence and a better ability for appreciating others.”
Outside of being the facilitator of Leadership Weekend, VanBenschoten also encourages students to join the P.I.E.C.E.S Leadership Program.
This program requires members to attend events, such as Leadership Weekend, and write a reflection adhering to one letter of the acronym: Professionalism, Interculturalism, Ethics, Communication, Eloquence or Service. Earning all six letters earns the student a certificate and valuable experiences that can transfer onto a resume.
There are talks of a “new normal” in a COVID-19 world, but VanBenschoten is optimistic that Leadership Weekend will persist.
“It’s possible the numbers of our trip will stay low, and there may be permanent modifications to the workshop,” VanBenschoten said. “But I maintain hope for us being able to return to the original plans in a safe way sometime in the future. Anyone who participates this year will have first chance at being on the list to go next year.”