Voyageur Outward Bound School blog

MNCAPS & Outward Bound: Preparing Students for Life

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“It’s an adventure!”

High school students enrolled in the Minnesota Center for Advanced Professional Studies are raving about their experience:

“It’s so much better than regular school. I’m working with clients. I’m communicating, collaborating on a team, meeting deadlines– being responsible for a real project!”

Real life experience engages these students and serves as curriculum. Here at Outward Bound, we know a thing or two about the power of experience.

Juniors and seniors at Lakeville North, Lakeville South and Prior Lake High Schools are working together to solve real problems and create actionable strategies for companies like Target and Polaris. Students across these schools enroll together in a unique, multi-year, experiential learning program that focuses on Global Business or Medicine and Healthcare. Companies and organizations engage Business Pathway MNCAPS students in semester-long projects, co-designed and student-lead, to address actual needs like demographic research, systems analysis and strategic marketing. I’m lucky enough to serve as a mentor for a sharp marketing protegé, Heather Broom. Heather invited me to the mid-year MNCAPS Project Showcase.

I was eager to see Heather in action and learn about the outcomes of her team project with Target. Heather and her peers investigated Target’s potential to serve Asian Americans in the greater Twin Cities with relevant on-the-go dining options. The team took a deep dive into demographics, community research, market analysis, surveying and product placement. Their work was focused and strategic, but the scope of the project was big and multi-faceted. Students had particular roles on the team, with key personal responsibilities– communication, management, reporting– and ultimately one big group goal: a set of recommendations and action steps for Target. Students reported to each other, their individual mentors, MNCAPS teachers and to Target. They were responsible for managing their workloads and meeting short and long-term group goals. This should sound familiar to any graduate of an Outward Bound course, where students are responsible for key daily roles–navigator, cook, crew leader–as well as working toward overall expedition goals, like safely navigating a multi-day canoe route and making it to your haul out point on time. Heather’s team learned to work through the group, for the group.

As the team shared the scope of the Target project for a roomful of professional visitors, outcomes were in evidence. Students communicated with easy confidence, representing the work equitably, sharing the limelight and providing on point answers to hard-hitting questions. They listened attentively to their audience, and their peers, with terrific eye contact and open body language. They responded to questions with relevant detail, deferring to fellow team experts when appropriate to expand on a concept. They introduced themselves, shook hands, got to know their audience, articulated their points of view, summarized their learning and generally behaved as stellar goodwill ambassadors for the MNCAPS mission. As an Outward Bound alum, I recognized the hallmarks of positive group culture in these students.

Any teacher, parent or employer would be impressed by the skills these students employ together and how they support one another– they have clearly grown as individuals, and as a group through this experience.

Full disclosure: Voyageur Outward Bound School partners with MNCAPS to set students up for success. Our mission alignment makes this partnership dynamic. MNCAPS and Outward Bound share a big goal. We want to prepare students for life. We know that real experience and group learning catalyze transformation. We want to give students the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges.

“Outward Bound! That day was awesome! I remember when we finally got to the park, we spent almost all of our time brainstorming and we barely had time to build our flagpole!”

MNCAPS students recall their Outward Bound Urban Adventure with a combination of enthusiasm and amazement.

“That’s what we ended up doing all year– working as a team. It’s not always easy!”

Voyageur Outward Bound School put MNCAPS students and teachers on course together last fall. Students bussed into Minneapolis very early in the morning and unloaded at the Guthrie Theater where they divided into small teams and paired up with Outward Bound Instructors. Most students and staff were meeting for the first time and had no idea what to expect. Together, they embarked on the Urban Adventure, working toward short and long-term goals, through challenges and initiatives that took them across the city to various way points. Their ultimate goal was to reach Loring Park in the afternoon where they would regroup with MNCAPS at large and face a final competitive challenge:

  • Barter for weird materials to build the very best flagpole in a very short amount of time
  • Design, create and fly a flag on that pole that would tell the story of their Urban Adventure
  • Name their team, elect a spokesperson and present their overall learning through a compelling 3 minute speech delivered to and judged by their peers

The Urban Adventure would prove to be a micro version of their semester-long group project adventure, introducing them to the skills they would need to function in a team and meet project goals.

“It took a whole day to figure out who was good at what, but by the end of the day, we started to figure it out and that helped with the flag challenge.”

By compressing our Theory of Change (with a little help from artificial time constraints and instructor-designed challenges), we can move students through our Training, Main and Final phases of group learning in a single day. This kick-starts group awareness. Confidence is inspired through hard work, some failure and a lot of success.

Our goal is to prime students for their year-long MNCAPS adventure and give them skills that transfer to that challenge.

Readily transferable skills include: emotion management and emotional intelligence, empathy and cultural awareness, teamwork, negotiation, conflict resolution, initiative, goal setting, persistence, responsibility, problem solving, critical thinking, planning and more.

“It took us a couple of weeks to figure out who was going to be good at which roles on the project team. But then we started to understand what it was going to take to get things done and we learned how to work together.”

“We learned how to work in real world situations.”

“My greatest takeaway, is that we’re better together. Everybody has different strengths and as a team, we get the job done. Everyone has a role to play.”

The main feature of the MNCAPS Project Showcase was transformation. These students have clearly been transformed by the act of working toward a common goal together. The impact of their experience is clear in the confident communicators and team players they are today. When asked what their client learned in this process, Heather and team cited these takeaways:

Target “learned from our recommendations, [discovered] ways to make Target stores more diverse and put trust in students to get important things done.”

As I strolled around with organizational leaders, school board members and principals, I heard excitement and consensus. In one form or another, I heard the same thing over and over again: “This experience has a real impact.” Trust, action and transformation.

Many thanks to the MNCAPS students who shared their exciting work with the community and who bravely take on new challenges every day. And thanks also to Melanie Smieja, her talented team and the community citizens, who make this cutting edge learning and partnership possible.

To learn more about innovation at the Minnesota Center for Advanced Professional Studies, visit their website.

To learn more about Voyageur Outward Bound School and the power of experiential education contact me: marlais.brand@vobs.org. I’m always eager to connect with our community partners!

Author: Marlais Brand

Marlais has been a teacher and land-based learning advocate for over twenty years. She connects people to the power of nature and serves as Groups Outreach Manager for Voyageur Outward Bound School. Marlais loves to travel and write everywhere, but considers Lake Superior her True North.

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