By tuli alexander

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Particpants at the EDGE course. Photo by Erik Simkins.

For the past 20 years, the Associated Student EDGE program has been bringing people together by providing challenging and fun obstacles that participants must overcome by working together.
EDGE, which stands for Encouraging the Development of Groups through Experience, was designed to build leadership, trust, problem-solving and effective communication among groups, according to the EDGE Web site.
“The program was started as an emerging way of looking at leadership and bringing together groups of people to have them learn things about themselves,” said Jim Schuster, director of Viking Union facilities.
Trained facilitators help design activities to meet the goals of certain group, said Fred Collins, manager of the EDGE program.
One of these facilitators is Melissa Queen. She said the idea of EDGE is to take a group outside of their everyday situation.
“The transfer of the experience on the course to their everyday normal life [and that] gives them a different point of view,” she said.
It can also help build up the fundamentals of communication so that groups are better equipped to work through problems in a stressful situation, Queen said.
“It’s not a problem anymore. It becomes a skill that they can apply,” she said.
Some of the groups that participate in the program include communications classes, engineering and technology classes, various athletics teams, employees from residence halls and the dining services and Viking Union staff, Collins said.
One aspect of the EDGE program involves a campus portables program where facilitators bring a “bag of tricks” to groups on campus and use props like blindfolds, rubber balls and floor spots. The props are essentially toys used to play games, Queen said.
There’s also a portable Styrofoam balance beam, where a sample goal might be to get the whole group up onto it by order of birthday without talking to one another, Queen said.
“It’s a way to set up a challenging indoor activity just by having a prop bag and some experience,” Collins said.
The Lakewood EDGE facility involves a high course and a low course. The high course generally involves suspending one or two participants using a rope system, said Jeff Davis, program manager for Lakewood.
Among the high course activities, which include Burma Bridge, Giant’s Ladder and Pirate’s Crossing, is the Catwalk, which is a log that is suspended between two trees 45 feet up in the air. The log is 20 feet across and 8 inches in diameter and would be similar to walking on a railroad track on the ground, Davis said. It involves the balance and coordination that most everyone has, but their perception changes from being up high, he said.
Mohawk Walk is an activity on the low course that has different lengths of cables two feet above the ground that are stretched between trees. The group needs to balance from one side to the other without falling off, said Davis.
The low course also has a V-shaped cable that’s three feet off the ground. Two participants face each other and place their hands on each other’s shoulders. They walk along the cable, getting farther and farther away from one another until they are relying directly on the other person to keep them from falling. The rest of the group stands below, ready to catch them when they fall.
The activity can be used to discuss the dynamics of group relationships, said Queen. It’s about trust; participants have to lean on one another and also rely on teammates to be there to support them, Queen said.
“For me, it was a way to break out of my shell,” said Amber Rusco, a lifestyle advisor who works in the Wellness Outreach Center. “It got people interacting rather than sitting around in small groups talking.”
Rusco participated in the EDGE program last fall with 12 other trainees in the Lifestyle Advisor Program. Although they had taken a class together during the previous spring quarter and gone through a weeklong training during the summer, Rusco said that it wasn’t until they participated in the EDGE program together that the group members really got to know one another.
“I feel like we actually developed friendships while playing games and having fun together,” she said.
The EDGE program was called the Challenge Course since it started in 1989 but the name was changed three years ago to be more representative of what the program is all about, Schuster said.
“Challenge is a word people don’t like to hear a lot,” said Collins.
The program operates by a “challenge by choice” standard; if a person doesn’t want to do an activity, they don’t have to and the group will support their decision, Collins said.
Currently, the Lakewood EDGE is closed because it’s no longer able to meet hardware standards, Davis said.
“The hardware that’s out there is 20 years old and the hardware standards have changed,” Collins said. “Our equipment showed no wear, no trouble, but we need to be really careful about risk management.”
The course should be back in use by the end of summer, Davis said. Until then, the campus will be renting out the ropes course at Lutherwood Camp and Retreat Center, which is located on Lake Samish.