Program teaches students leadership, cooperation

By Laura Graesser

As captain of the women’s tennis team at the University, it was up to Leila Cehajic to plan a team bonding activity before the start of school. Tired of the same old camping trips or movie nights, Cehajic, senior in applied life studies, wanted an activity that promoted communication and team unity.

ActiveLEAD did just that.

A leadership development program through the Division of Campus Recreation, ActiveLEAD offers specifically designed packages to groups to encourage team dynamics and cohesiveness. Groups that take advantage of ActiveLEAD’s offerings include registered student organizations, sororities and fraternities, professionals on campus and businesses off campus.

“They might be a new group and want to get to know each other better, they might be experiencing communication difficulties, or they want to learn how to strengthen their group as a cohesive unit,” said Heather Horn, assistant director of human resources and leadership development for Campus Recreation.

The program, in its seventh year, has several different package options for groups to choose from. The Challenge package puts groups through a series of challenge activities that require critical thinking by all involved as they are guided through the day by group facilitators.

“The challenge activities help the members of the group to learn to work with others to solve problems,” Horn said. “They utilize their strengths and communicate more efficiently and effectively.”

The Discover package uses the same type of activities, but adds a personality profile assessment, called True Colors, led by a trained professional.

“There are no wrong answers on the True Colors test,” said Rob Lininger, visiting assistant director for Campus Recreation. “People get to know themselves better.”

In addition to the Challenge and Discover packages, ActiveLEAD offers packages that take groups off the ground to challenge them even further. While a climbing tower package has been offered before, this year the program has introduced Higher Elements, a program that uses a climbing wall and zip line at Allerton Park.

“The Higher Elements package adds an experience to the program that the ground activities can’t match,” said Lininger, who is also a group facilitator for ActiveLEAD. “It is the best mechanism around to cement camaraderie in a group.”

ActiveLEAD directs programs for groups of varying sizes, from six to 500 participants at a time. Having led all different types of groups, Lininger was surprised at the enthusiasm of college students to participate in activities they might initially find juvenile.

“It’s important to have the right attitude going in or you won’t enjoy the activities,” Lininger said. “The activities force people to relinquish whatever was holding them back so they can have fun.”

For Cehajic, it was important for the small tennis team of nine girls to get to know each other better through ActiveLEAD.

“We got to see everyone’s personalities better and see how we work together,” Cehajic said. “You can see who talks, who listens, who steps up when they’re needed.”

While the focus of ActiveLEAD is on the participants and helping them become more aware of themselves as individuals and as a group, group facilitators like Lininger see the program as beneficial to all involved.

“Through working with ActiveLEAD, I am beginning to really appreciate more the capabilities of people,” Lininger said. “The groups meet the challenges head on and they’re really receptive to learning. It really is a fun experience.”

More information about ActiveLEAD and prices of the packages can be found online at www.campusrec.uiuc.edu/leadership/programs.html.