Abassi Walker stares up at the 13-foot tall vertical wall, a gray mass pocked with multicolored knobs, handholds and what amount to nothing more than slight bulges.
Taking a deep breath, he grasps a handhold, places his right foot on one of the large knobs and pushes off. Long-limbed and lanky, he looks like a spider as he slowly makes his way up. Then a foot slips. Down he comes, landing with an “oof!” on the thick crash pads below.
Walker and 13 other students—all female—are in the Boulder Wall Room at the UTC Aquatic Recreation Center, here as part of Moc LEAD (Leaders Encouraging A Difference), the nine-week program designed to prepare students to be successful leaders in the community after they graduate.
“The program achieves this goal through interactive workshops that help students explore a critical topic in a new and engaging way, by helping them discover a new skill or new knowledge and connecting students to a network of resources to achieve their desired outcomes,” said Daniel Grzesik, director leadership development and programs.
Moc LEAD launched in the 2017-18 academic year and is open to any undergraduate or graduate student in good standing with the university. Among the topics covered in the program are “Your Leadership Preferences,” “Communication Styles,” “Leaders and Integrity” and “Public Speaking Skills.”
The session in the Boulder Wall Room is a lesson in “Goal Setting and Motivation” and, while bouldering might seem like an odd way to approach that subject, Walker says it helps with “perseverance and self-determination.”
A junior in business analytics, he says he hopes the Moc LEAD program “will give me a bunch of tools that I can leverage to make myself a better person and really an effective communicator.”
“I see myself as a natural born leader, but I’m not exactly sure how to put that into my career,” he says.
Katelyn Brown, another Moc LEAD student, also made it to the top of a bouldering wall, doing it on her first try. Making it to the top means touching the top of the wall with a hand, not clambering all the way over, and she gives the effort a six on a scale of 10.
A senior in child in child and family studies, Brown sees the wall as a way to “put the goal-setting in perspective by actually applying it in a practical way because you have to think about where you want to go on the wall and then actually do it.”
Over on another wall, Walker attacks the task again after resting for a minute or so. To the clapping and cheers of those watching, this time he makes it all the way, slaps the top of the wall and drops down.
His judgment on the difficulty level on a scale of one to 10? His answer is instantaneous: