Future Leader Camp A Continuing Success

Stephen Hopkins The Future Leader Camp (FLC) at Norwich University is a two-week summer program dedicated to developing the leadership potential of high school students. Collins "Skip" Davison calls it a "living, breathing, leadership laboratory." The FLC provides participants with a challenging and meaningful adventure camp experience while building an understanding of small group leadership techniques, leadership ethics, teamwork, problem-solving and effective communication. About 250 students applied for the two 2006 camps; only 120 were accepted.

Davison, the director of recruitment for the Corps of Cadets at Norwich, has developed the program from its humble beginning as a one-week summer camp for at-risk teens. In contrast, the current, two-week program is designed for what Davison describes as "rising stars" -- students with a grade point average of at least 2.5 (the average is well over 3.0) who are active participants in extracurricular activities.

“This is not a boot camp for troubled kids,” Davison says. “These young people are already leaders in their high schools. When they come here, we’re helping them take the next step in leadership development. They already have a base knowledge; we’re just taking them to the next level.

“We have high expectations and high standards of behavior,” Davison adds.  “I tell them I will treat them like young adults unless they demonstrate otherwise.”

The students do not have to plan on going to Norwich; they do not even have to plan on going into the military.

Davison believes the military format provides a structure and discipline that is beneficial to all participants. Not only did he use his Army training to set up the camp structure – he is a retired U.S. Army master sergeant – he applied the principles from his degree in industrial and organizational psychology.

The camp days are filled with intense and physically challenging activities – rappelling, rock climbing, orienting, paintball, long hikes, wilderness survival training, water survival, military drills, self-defense exercises and more.  The students are in class every night learning about the traits and skills of good leadership – traits such as integrity, initiative, confidence and taking responsibility for your actions, and skills such as discipline, teamwork and problem-solving.

“The participants are in programs from the time they get up until they go to bed at night,” Davison says. “We do push them. There’s no time for volleyball or Frisbee.  If they want to do that, they can stay at home.

Megan Lashway“One of the most important things we do is help students identify their personal potential for leadership,” Davison adds, “and how they can develop it. Anyone can learn leadership but you have to be willing to work at it. We talk about the three basic styles of leadership – democratic, directive and delegative – and which is appropriate in what situation.”

If leadership is the abiding theme of FLC, teamwork comes in a close second. The ten students on each team support and help one another with the intense physical challenges as well as in the numerous communication and problem-solving exercises.

Stephen Hopkins, assistant training and safety officer for this summer’s camps, describes an exercise in which team members guide one team member, who is blindfolded, through a mock mine field.

“It really helps them learn to communicate more effectively,” he says, “and figure out how to work together as a group. They have to explain exactly what they want the person to do – move one inch to the left or right, or exactly how high to lift your foot. And they have to figure out pretty quickly if one person is going to give the directions or if they’re all going to be yelling at the same time. Teamwork is really crucial.”

“The importance of teamwork is one of the most important lessons we teach,” Davison says. “We don’t always get to pick and choose who our teammates will be in school or business. It’s important to be able to work with people from different backgrounds. We push the kids into teams quickly, and they have to learn to work out problems and how to communicate effectively. Good leaders know how to make a team come together.”

The high school students are not the only ones learning about leadership, Davison points out. A staff of 22 people runs the camps; this year, 10 of them are students from Norwich University. The staff goes through a one-week training session before the camps start.

“We emphasize,” Davison says, “that good leaders don’t demand but serve as mentors, guides and coaches. In that way, they earn the respect of those they are leading. It’s easy to lead by fear and intimidation. It’s much more difficult to be a positive leader. Leaders who yell and scream and use demeaning language are just plain poor leaders.”

Davison proudly points out that, of the 1,100 students in the Norwich Cadet Corps for fall 2006, ten percent will have attended FLC. As a testament to the quality of the leadership learned, two of the last three Regimental Commanders have been alumni of the FLC.

But even those statistics may not be the ultimate test of success.

“We get calls from guidance counselors and parents,” Davison says, “and they ask us what we did to this kid. They say he has a new perspective about the future or she’s working much harder than she used to. That’s when I know we are making a difference.”

Future Leader camp students move out.