University of Michigan’s Adventure Leadership is an activity-based, team building and leadership development program that works with university groups, sports teams, departments, community groups, and corporate organizations. I spoke with Jessa Lytle, the Assistant Director of Adventure Leadership, to learn more about her work at the intersection of team building and environmental education.
In college, Jessa was passionate about finding ways for people to connect with the environment. She studied biology, leadership, outdoor education, and recreation at Central Michigan University. Jessa’s skill set led her to a career utilizing adventure-based learning to help foster community, leadership, and environmental awareness. Before coming to U-M, Jessa worked at the Howell Nature Center doing wildlife rehabilitation and outdoor and environmental education. “One of my favorite things [at Howell Nature Center] was being able to work in a high ropes course built into a tree canopy. We got to show children how different trees are at that height. We got to feel the sap that was coming out of them, and interact with lots of different insects at that level!”
At U-M, Jessa spends most of her days managing student staff and training them on how to build communities of people and share the love of the outdoors. She trains student trip leaders at the U-M Biological Station in Pellston, MI – among other locations – and she also trains the students who lead most of the Adventure Leadership team building programs at the Adventure Education Center located next to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Her staff learns how to be stewards of the land. They model environmentally responsible behavior and educate participants about wildlife at the Adventure Education Center. “We have a small population of Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes on the property, which has given us the opportunity to educate participants about them and occasionally observe them in the wild,” said Jessa.
Jessa sees team building programs at Adventure Leadership as a way for groups to practice solving complex problems, including many of the issues relating to sustainability. “Our programs help people find ways to work better together. We often address conflict, resource management, and the need to find creative solutions to difficult challenges. We’re giving individuals opportunities to look at situations in their group and their environment through a new lens.” She added, “We give them skills to make better group choices and to more efficiently overcome obstacles together in the future.”
The culture of feedback is a critical component of Adventure Leadership. Jessa explains how the Adventure Leadership staff spends an hour after each program talking about aspects of the program that went well, things to be improved upon, and lessons learned. This “debriefing” session allows them to grow and become better facilitators. Jessa describes how people working in the sustainability space can also utilize regular feedback: “[More groups should] be centered around the practice that every moment can be a learning opportunity and that mistakes are critical for growth to happen. It is important to take the time to reflect on what they can do to advance their work. It can be really powerful in creating a more sustainable culture.” She adds, “If we keep repeating patterns, change isn’t going to happen. But if we take the opportunity to think about how we can do things better, it can make a huge difference. A growth mindset is vital.”
Jessa’s work with her student staff has made her optimistic about the future of the planet. “There’s so much more power in young people than I could have ever imagined. Working with college students who have these bright eyes and full hearts and want to change the world is truly inspiring. Watching their enthusiasm transform the way people interact with others and the environment has given me a lot of hope.” She added, “So much of my job is giving college students the tools to fuel their passions and develop the skills they need to make an impact on the lives of others. It’s an easy job to love!”
How can Planet Blue Ambassadors get involved with the Adventure Leadership? There will be open high adventure days starting this fall where people can get a taste of the program by checking out the high ropes course or climbing tower. Additionally, if you have a group, you can sign up for a half day, full day, or multi-day team building program. Jessa is always looking for ways to partner with other university units on programs and provide educational opportunities for her staff!