Shelton Leadership Challenge 2013

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Photos by Cliff Hollis


Shelton Challenge teaches teens to face fear, trust teamwork

Aug. 1, 2013

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.

As part of the Shelton Leadership Challenge activities, participants interacted with residents at the Creative Living Center in Greenville. Challenge participants included McKayla Robinette of Pinetops, upper image at right, and in the lower image, Conner Christian of Greenville, left, and Alexis Bynum of Goldsboro.

Christian planned to continue working on his own listening skills during his week at ECU, especially as the voices around him were diverse in race, gender, faith, socioeconomic status and cultural background.

“In your small group at school, everyone thinks the same,” Christian explained. “But here everyone’s different.”

The curriculum also distinguishes between leadership positions and true leaders – who can have an impact and influence others in any role. All those lessons stick with them, past participants said.

“I was forced to come last year,” admitted Aulie Strickland, a rising high school senior from Spivy’s Corner who returned this year by choice to serve as a peer leader. “But by the end of the first day, it’s like everyone’s best friends.”

Strickland said it was difficult to watch the new crop of participants work through the challenge without sharing the shortcuts and answers, but he knows it’s necessary for their learning experience.

Asked what he took away from the Shelton Challenge in 2012, Strickland paused only a moment.

“You don’t have to sit back and wait to be told to do something,” he said. “You can have an impact.”

The Shelton Leadership Challenge at ECU is hosted annually by the Office of Innovation and Economic Development in partnership with Student Affairs.

More information is available online at

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