Rui Fan, (MBA ‘13), felt her legs start to wobble as she inched across a high beam leading to the zipline at Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg, Pa. Shaking with fear, she looked down the plunging wire -- and then at her teammates waving below.
“You can do it Rui!” they yelled up at her.
Buoyed by that encouragement, Fan, a native of Beijing, China, took a deep breath, grabbed the handle, and let out a shriek as she flew through the air and down the cable. “It was great,” she said as she stepped out of the safety harness and accepted a congratulatory hug from a teammate.
The zipline was just one element of Team Day, a highlight of the month-long orientation process for the Tepper School of Business’ Class of 2013. The August 10 event brought together some 200 incoming MBA students to overcome fears, solve problems and bond with classmates.
Clad in red Tepper School T-shirts and orange helmets, groups of 15 students worked through physical and mental challenges as they experienced the kind of teamwork so valuable in a business setting.
“This is just fantastic. You have so many people from so many different places,” said 29-year-old J. P. Balfour, (MBA ‘13), who worked as a sales representative in Dallas before moving to Pittsburgh to attend the Tepper School.
“It takes more than one skill set,” he said. “Some people are fast. Some people are strong. Some are good problem-solvers. People who are soft-spoken become more outspoken here. It’s really neat feeding off of each other.”
Team Day encouraged students to mix with their classmates as they waited to tackle the zipline, cargo net, giant ladder, vertical plunge and other ropes course elements. To keep the focus on cooperation, the event had neither scores nor winning teams.
“It was not competitive at all,” said Vickie Motz, director of student services at The Tepper School. “It was about collaboration and cooperation to make effective teams. I think everyone tried one thing out of their comfort zone.”
During one element, the MBAs, whose diverse backgrounds ranged from engineer to marketing executive to Army weapons instructor, worked together to traverse a field of concrete pillars using only two short planks of wood as bridges.
“In a nanosecond, Tom from the Army figured it out,” said 47-year-old Stacy Phillips, (MBA ‘13), a former paralegal from New York City. She was referring to Thomas Zinkle, (MBA ‘13) a former Army weapons instructor from Wisconsin.
Zinkle, 33, also excelled at the next challenge by muscling his way across a series of dangling tires. He then offered encouragement to a struggling classmate who claimed he hadn’t attempted such a feat since elementary school.
In yet another team-building activity, participants stood in a circle and linked hands at random to form a human knot. They then worked together to untangle the mass of arms and elbows without letting go of one another.
“You instantly learn names,” said Markay Bressler, (MBA ‘13), a 26-year-old former food scientist from central Pennsylvania. “You might say, ‘Dennis, your right arm. You need to put it over here.’ You come together on the opinions.”
In fact, the students spent so much time interacting at the camp that Bressler and others quickly met many of their 200 classmates. “The first day of class, the professors are going to be the only ones who don’t know our names,” she said.
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