First-year leadership experience emphasizes teamwork

By Sarah Carey

Dr. Alex Tomassan, Dean Jim Lloyd and Dr. Pam Ginn pose for a photo at FLE. (Photo courtesy of CVM Office of Students and Instruction)

Dr. Alex Tomasson, Dean Jim Lloyd and Dr. Pam Ginn pose for a photo at FLE. (Photo courtesy of  UF CVM’s Office of Students and Instruction)

Incoming University of Florida veterinary students say a recent hands-on, retreat-like learning experience that is part of their orientation to the college and UF, left them enthused and motivated as they start a four-year odyssey of classes and clinics in pursuit of the D.V.M. degree.

Faculty and others involved in the event agree that this year’s First Year Leadership Experience, (FLE), held Aug. 19-20 at the YMCA’s Camp McConnell in Micanopy, was indeed a success.

Coordinated by Dr. Pamela Ginn, associate dean of students and instruction, and her staff, key support was also provided by Dr. Alex Thomasson, a technical service veterinarian with Merial and the Florida Veterinary Medical Association. The experience provided 113 new students with an opportunity to learn more about themselves and others through a variety of team-building exercises.

About 150 people attended the event. In addition to members of the incoming class, 14 second-year veterinary students, who served as facilitators; 13 UF veterinary college faculty members; staff from the Office for Students and Instruction; Thomasson and Dr. Ernie Godfrey, representing the FVMA, were also present.

Merial and the FVMA also assisted in providing financial support for the event.

Previous first-year leadership experiences have been conducted at Camp Weed, near Live Oak, but for a variety of logistical reasons, the decision was made to change the venue to Camp McConnell, which is closer to Gainesville.

Ropes course at FLE

A student performs the high ropes course during FLE at Camp McConnell. (Photo courtesy of UF CVM’s Office of Students and Instruction)

Ginn served as overall coordinator and emcee, with Thomasson leading the large group activities.

“These activities were designed to foster discussion and observation of leadership, teamwork and communications,” Ginn said. “The students also had free time to swim at the Camp McConnell pool, and to challenge themselves in a high ropes course at the camp.”

The high ropes course included a zipline, rock wall and cargo net climb, as well as other opportunities to challenge climbing, balance and confidence-building skills, Ginn added.

A special guest, Dr. Lee Ann Pack from Prince Edwards University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, was also present to glean ideas for implementing a similar program at her college.

“The students seemed to love the opportunity to get to know one another, while engaged in all the activities,” Ginn said. “The camp staff were wonderful hosts, and the event was such a success that the college looks forward to holding next year’s FLE at the camp again.”

Several students said they really enjoyed the experience, for several reasons.

“I had a lot of fun at FLE this year,” said Kaity Hogan, a first-year student. “The most important part of the event was meeting my classmates. It’s really hard to get to know people in a lecture hall, and this was a much more fun and comfortable environment to get to know people.”

Students perform a team-building exercise during FLE at Camp McConnell. (Photo courtesy of UF CVM's Office for Students and Instruction.)

Students perform a team-building exercise during FLE at Camp McConnell. (Photo courtesy of UF CVM’s Office for Students and Instruction.)

She said she had met many classmates that she probably otherwise would not have been introduced to in a classroom setting.

“The ropes course was amazing and really helped to put the stress of the first day in perspective. My favorite thing, though, was that faculty members were working with us. We were able to ask questions and  really appreciated how open they were and the insights that they provided,” she said.

Patrick Brady, also a first-year student, said there was a good mix of activities, and that he was never bored.

“I had the best time working with my small group, because we were all able to open up,” he said. “It was a really great experience. Increasing the number of people you know also makes the social interactions on the first day so much more comfortable.”

Second-year student Sandy MacArthur has assisted in FLE in previous years.

“As a counselor, you have the opportunity to become very close with the other facilitators in your class, and it’s an opportunity I’ll never regret,” she said. “The best part of FLE for the second-year students is that chance to form the special bond with other counselors that will never fully fade.”

Dr. Amy Stone, a clinical assistant professor, called this year’s event “phenomenal.”

“I’ve been so happy with how organized and entertaining all the activities have been,” Stone said. “All of the facilitators are well trained and Dr. Thomasson has just been amazing. The small group activities have been great and it’s been wonderful to watch the class of 2017 get to know each other. You can see how excited most of them are to participate.”

Stone added that she thought the most important part of this event is that it gives faculty a chance to meet the new class in an appropriately open social environment.

“The students feel much more confident in approaching us to ask questions, which is sometimes more difficult in a classroom setting,” Stone said. “I wish more faculty would choose to attend to embrace the opportunity to connect with the new generation of students.”

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