I was amazed at the kinds of activities that strengthen one’s skills, so I would like to share with you the incredible adventure I had while attending this program. First of all, Lexington is horse country, I mean Kentucky Derby horse country. It is known as the “Horse Capital of the World,” and it is located in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. It is also known for some of the world’s finest bourbon.
Our bus trips to our many program sites took us through much of the countryside, which is home to many of the world’s thoroughbred winners for the last 150 years. While we didn’t see the horses, we did see the farms that raised them, miles and miles of beautifully manicured pastures with white fences and stately horse barns. The Sheikh of Dubai, known locally as Sheikh Mo, owns a very large horse farm, and every year in September for the annual horse sales he arrives in two 747s, one for his horses and one for his wives.
One other note that will interest Vermonters is the new prison which, in order to satisfy community objections, was built underground with only one above-ground structure that looks like one of those stately horse barns.
Our first day was spent at the Asbury University Challenge Course, which has an excellent reputation as a premiere location for outside of the box professional development opportunities. In short, it is a sophisticated ropes course high up in the trees plus a lot of related on-the-ground preparation challenges, all designed to test our abilities to trust, to solve problems, to communicate with others. We were divided up into four groups, each group given a vegetable name. I was a rutabaga, and for the morning I had a wonderful time in the woods, in the rain, working my way through these challenges with my fellow rutabagas. In the afternoon we went to the high ropes course where I exercised my decision-making skills to stay on the ground. I was asked to hold several smart phones, so I spent the time taking photos and videos of those braver than I.
The rest of the week was a combination of speakers, group exercises, and trips to locations – and food, oh, the food! Speakers shared with us their insights on “Discovering the Power of Teams,” “How to Craft an Effective Message,” and “Raising Your Social [media] Awareness.” On our visit to the Kentucky Statehouse and the governor’s mansion, we time-traveled back to the beginning of our country as we watched actors who were also academics and experts in the characters of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton talk about the events, the documents, and the people who created the foundations of today’s American democracy. At lunch in the governor’s mansion we were treated to a dialog by Henry Clay, who is considered a compromiser, although the number of duels he staged with members of our group seemed to outweigh any sense that compromise might be a valuable strategy. However regardless of interpretation, it was great theater.
We were asked to take a test called DISC for the four classic leadership behavior tendencies - dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. Once determined, we were asked to assemble in our like groups, create a slogan that best exemplified our characteristic, select an animal to represent us and draw a tee shirt. There were howls of laughter before it was over and a real example of what happens when conversations happen without diversity of skills. (If you want to know what my characteristic is, ask me in private.)
By the third day we were introduced to what was the compelling exercise of the whole program. We gathered in each of the four regional groups and were asked to select a goal to be accomplished by action at the state level within a decade. We were not to worry about whether it was politically possible to accomplish or about sufficient funding. On the evening of the last day each region had to present a skit with full-blown media accompaniment demonstrating what our proposal was. The only rule was that everyone had to participate. On each of the ensuing days we were given time to assemble in our regional groups to plan and execute.
Once we began to work in our regional groups, we also had some shorter, more entertaining tasks to work on. One task, perhaps the most hilarious of all our time together, was when, at one of our evening meals we were challenged as a region to create the winning dessert featuring marshmallows and anything else. A panel of three judges would pick a winner. We had a half hour. We in the East had perhaps the messiest and I am sure the most fun, but we also, being resourceful, had a secret weapon. A little sleuthing turned up the fact that the judges were fond of Kentucky bourbon, so a bottle appeared on our work table. And we won.
Overall, my experience with my fellow Fellows was rich and rewarding on both a personal and a professional level. I look forward to an enriched effort to work on the issues that are important to us. I am very appreciative of those who supported my application to be a Toll Fellow.