Challenge Education

Challenge Education is one of the important ways that Hartwick accomplishes its mission of helping students become self-confident, responsible individuals prepared to live a purposeful life. It helps people to “Lead, Grow, and Change.”

Challenge Education Mission

Challenge Education develops and motivates student leaders, who, through their engagement, gain professional development, outdoor education minor course credit, and experience in the adventure world. Students organize to support one another and together cultivate a mindful community of intentional facilitators. Through adventure based experiential learning, student develop a transferable skill set that accesses personal courage, critical thinking and personal/intrapersonal awareness.

Challenge By Choice

Challenge by choice, our motto, means that everyone has the right to choose their own level of challenge in each activity.

“I overcame my fear because I said I would – this is important as an educator.”

A Hartwick Education Student

“We learned we all need to support everyone, not just our friends.”

A Swimmer

“We learned that we need to listen better, that humor is helpful, and that persistence is key.”

The International Club

Our Challenge Programs

Our courses offer a unique learning environment using group problem solving activities as well as the challenge course. These novel activities are presented within an atmosphere of group support and encouragement. A sequence of increasing physical and mental challenges tends to engage people quickly and directly. Insights occur and new behaviors are discovered, with the help of frequent discussions.

Our Challenge Course

The challenge course resides mainly in the forest at Hartwick’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus, where most courses are run. It consists of 9 “low elements” (in which the group is asked to cross cables, use swing ropes, climb through obstacles or balance on platforms); and 9 “high elements” (in which individuals are asked to climb trees or poles while secured by ropes, and try tasks such as crossing cables or beams, climbing giant ladders or leaping for a target). There is an indoor bouldering wall in the Vaudevillian so courses can continue throughout the winter months.

HArtwick’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus

Educational Studies Minor

Outdoor Educational Track

Training Opportunities

Additional training offered at Pine Lake Campus through the Outdoor/Challenge Education Office include:

  • Basic First Aid & CPR – American Red Cross (1 day)
  • WFA – Wilderness First Aid (2 days)
  • AWFA – Advanced Wilderness First Aid (4 days)
  • WFR – Wilderness First Responder (8-10 days)

Most Challenge courses are held at Hartwick’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus, located just eight miles from the main campus. Pine Lake is the site of the low and high challenge course, and provides a retreat atmosphere – a chance to get away from campus or the work setting, and gain a fresh perspective. Occasionally, shorter courses are offered on the College’s main campus or at other locations.  We have some portable elements, initiatives and mixers that work well on the go.

The challenge course is very safe. Facilitators are trained by nationally recognized High 5 Adventure Org. and Project Adventure, Inc. to manage safety issues and are experienced in teaching, social and human services, counseling and environmental education. Participants are taught how to keep each other safe emotionally and physically. The challenge course is inspected annually by Certified Organizations. Participants wear approved climbing harnesses and helmets on high events and are protected there by a rope safety system called a belay.

There are 2 courses offered in Spring or Fall semesters through the Education Department EDUC-310, Basic Skills in Challenge Education and EDUC-311, Advanced Skills in Challenge Education.  Students who chose to minor in the program can also take independent study and/or internship credit working on various projects or helping TA courses.

Courses usually max out at 12-15 students.  As an experiential learning course, we keep it smaller to make sure each participant has time to work on and increase skills and knowledge on the course.

No, not necessarily. Anyone can participate. Cooperation and mutual support, rather than competition and physical prowess, are emphasized. Although the course may be physically demanding, each person chooses his or her own level of challenge.

Comfortable clothing is recommended for freedom of movement and activity. Extra layers are useful in the cooler forest climate; plan to be outdoors for many hours in a row. Sturdy tied shoes or boots are a must.

Our courses are designed to help create a sense of unity within the group by getting to know one another better and developing a sense of community. The program will focus on respect, trust, support, and most importantly, having fun. Our courses can be used to develop important skills such as problem solving, cooperation and collaboration, conflict resolution, group awareness, effective communication, coping with stress and achieving goals. Leadership is another key component. Participants will be exposed to different leadership styles and situations, and will have the opportunity to practice being a peer leader, and a supportive follower. These experiences are geared to also effect the participants personally by promoting self confidence, self reliance, speaking up, and an awareness of self and others.

Mixers are used to build commonalities and familiarity. These are get-to-know-you games and activities. Mixers include name games, interesting ways to introduce or find things out about each other, and fun activities that highlight people’s backgrounds and interests. They break the ice and get people interacting. Since people work together better if they know and understand each other a bit, Mixers create the foundation of many of our courses.

Group problem-solving exercises, also called “initiatives”, can develop skills in communication, cooperation, and planning. These activities take place on the lawn or a gym floor, and they typically involve novel equipment like hula hoops, carpet squares, or even rubber fish! The novelty helps people stay engaged and having fun while they learn to share ideas, give support, and create a collaborative plan. Group problems highlight the unique skills of each group member and the need for everyone to be involved. Many courses consist of these exercises alone – there is a wide variety.

Debriefs are the short discussions that occur after most activities in Challenge Education Courses. Questions usually revolve around what happened, what that means about the way the group is working together, and what can be learned from that. Debriefs are often where the “ah-ha’s” occur—in hearing the opinions and perspectives of others, and exploring improvements and changes. Debriefs are what put the Education into the Challenge!

Low elements and indoor bouldering wall continue the development of group skills such as responsibility to the group, voicing one’s needs, and honoring differences. The Low Elements are stations, or “elements,” built into the forest where participants balance on cables, climb on logs or swing on ropes. The low elements range from a few inches to 12′ off the ground. They require group creativity, safety skills, support, and cooperation to complete. Imagine balancing everyone on a deck that teeter-totters, or getting everyone through an “spiders web” without touching the web! For the group that is more physically active and/or more adventuresome, the Low Elements are exciting places to explore group skills. Each person finds his/her own level of involvement in each activity (“challenge by choice”). Prior to engaging with the Low Elements, a group must be trained in a set of safety skills. The indoor bouldering wall offers a space that can be utilized in inclement weather, and evenings, extending our program calendar. The Low Elements provide a safe, fun environment in which to learn to trust one another, speak up with needs, and reach goals that are both attainable and enlightening.

High elements on the challenge course focus on personal confidence and group support. They consist of nine stations ranging from 20 to 60′ above ground, and all climbers are secured by a rope safety system called a belay. Imagine traveling from tree to tree or pole to pole using only a few cables to help you, or helping a friend climb a giant ladder with rungs five feet apart. The object of the High Elements is to provide a safe place for individuals to tackle fears, set personal goals and challenge themselves within the support of the group. There are many different choices here, and ample time to make those choices.

Office of Challenge Education

Erin Baxter-Toal
Director of Pine Lake Campus & Challenge/Outdoor Education
320 Dewar Union

Hartwick bases its courses on the philosophies, activities and policies of High 5 Adventure Org and Project Adventure Inc.