Photos by Cliff Hollis
Shelton Challenge teaches teens to face fear, trust teamwork
By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Clinging to a rope on a narrow platform 30 feet above the ground at the North Campus Recreation Complex, Ethan Faulconer swore he wasn’t scared.
“I’m just nervous,” he shouted down to staffers and graduate students volunteering at the second annual Shelton Leadership Challenge at East Carolina University. “I feel like I can, but that first step…” He trailed off.
Faulconer, of Smithfield, and Greenville resident Kathleen Brazel stood side-by-side as the minutes ticked by, staring across a length of rope at their peers who had already crossed. From the crowd came encouragement.
“Find someone over here and look in their eyes,” one said.
“C’mon, you’ve got it!” yelled another.
Finally, Brazel took her first step, trembling as she worked her way out on to the ropes, progressing slowly but steadily with a course instructor close by. Everyone cheered. Faulconer watched her get halfway, and struck out himself.
Completing high- and low-ropes courses with their assigned teams is a physical test that participants face in the Shelton Challenge. But daily mental tasks also wear on their patience and test their understanding of the program’s core values: honesty, integrity, passion, diversity and social responsibility.
“In order to become a leader, you have to know yourself fully, trust yourself fully and put yourself out there,” said Mandee Foushee Lancaster, director of survey research and leadership initiatives in ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development. “The raw emotion (brought on by conflict) makes that happen.”
The Shelton Leadership Challenge brought 37 high school students to ECU’s campus for a weeklong residential program July 21-26. Focused on leadership skills and interpersonal dynamics, the challenge was founded by former chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired U.S. Army Gen. H. Hugh Shelton over a decade ago at N.C. State University.
In addition to prompting personal growth and introspection, the program challenges the way participants think about what makes a leader.
“You don’t always have to be talking…you can sit back and listen,” said Conner Christian, a rising freshman at D.H. Conley High School in Greenville.