Penn SUMR Scholars Go Waterborne for Leadership Training

Penn SUMR Scholars Go Waterborne for Leadership Training

Kicking Off Program's 20th Anniversary in Schuylkill River Racing Shells
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Photos: Hoag Levins

The 20th Anniversary cohort of the University of Pennsylvania Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) Program kicked off its three months of activities with a day-long, waterborne leadership and team building exercise on the Schuylkill River. Sponsored by Penn's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) and The Wharton School, SUMR is a pipeline curriculum for undergrads interested in exploring potential careers in the health services research field. (Click images for larger)

Scholars from Penn and 11 other schools across the country, who will spend the summer immersed in the study of health services research, reported to the Bachelors Barge Club on Philadelphia's famed Boathouse Row for a course in teamwork conducted by the teambuilding and leadership development firm, Team Concepts, Inc. of Narberth, Pa.

"Given the importance and new emphasis on teamwork throughout the health care delivery system, and on interdisciplinary collaboration across the health services research field, this seems like a perfect way to jumpstart the experience of our arriving group of new scholars," said SUMR program Founding Director Joanne Levy, MBA.

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Established in 1853, the Bachelors Barge Club is the country's oldest, continuously operated boathouse; its main meeting room's trophy cases boast prizes from more than 150 years of rowing competitions. Leading the day's training (above, right, with the SUMR scholars) is Team Concepts CEO Dan Lyons, a world champion, former member of seven U.S. national rowing teams, and member the U.S. Rowing Hall of Fame. Also a former Naval Officer and faculty member at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Lyons specializes in high-performance team building and leadership training for corporate and institutional clients.
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As part of forming three teams to row 8-person racing shells, SUMR scholars got colored team hats and t-shirts. Team members spent part of the morning working together to create a team name, slogan, goal and banner as part of the program's emphasis of two key elements: Everyone wants to be part of something bigger and everyone wants to feel valued. "Your job as a leader and also as part of a team, is to understand and create what the 'something bigger' is," Lyons explained. "If you, as the leader, go out with that mentality every day, people will be attracted to you and to what you are creating; then you begin to establish the sense of group commitment, responsiblity, and obligation without which, high performance team work cannot be achieved."

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Racing shell rowing is a surprisingly complicated process for the individual rower as well as for team members who must ultimately do it in exact synchronization in order to efficiently move the boat forward. Here, the scholars hit the rowing machines as coaches help each of them master the basics.

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Downstairs, in the heart of the boathouse, the students tour the rows of 60-foot-long shells. Left to right are SUMR scholars Khalid El-Jack of Boston University, Jason Mazique of Williams College, Kayla Dunn of the University of Virginia, Abeselom Gebreyesus of the University of Maryland, Tilaye Seblework of Penn, Phiwie Ndebele-Ngwenya of Philander Smith College, and Emma Britez Ferrante of Penn.

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Racing shells, which cost about $50,000 each, are intricate machines enabling bodies and oars to move in opposite directions to generate the most powerful forward force. Above, left, members of the Maroon Team get coaching on how to enter and take their place in the boats' moving seats and permanently attached rubber shoes. Above, right, out on the water, scholars spend two hours practicing how to row together as they move up and down through the Schuylkill's landmark bridges.

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Each 8-person shell held six scholars, two experienced oarsmen in the stern, and a coxswain who captained the shell from the bow. Each team boat was accompanied by a launch carrying a bullhorn-amplified coach. Above, left, Joanne Levy and Penn faculty member Claudio Lucarelli ride in a launch's rear seat. Above, right, SUMR Scholars of the Red Team listening to their coach are Jay Sangani of Case Western Reserve University, Abeselom Gebreyesus of the University of Maryland, Aminata Jalloh of Oakwood University, Kaliya Greenidge of Penn, and Victoria Pham of Berea College.

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The day's climax -- a 500-meter race by the three teams -- began with splashes and shouts (above, left) as the students put their new found rowing skills to the ultimate test. Above, right, after winning, the Red Team members raise their arms in victory.

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In a debriefing and ceremony back at the boathouse, Lyons presents each team member with a first, second or third place medal. Above, right, he congratulates Aminata Jalloh, one of the winning Red Team members.

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An experience they'll long remember, team members pose with their oars. Red Team: Abeselom Gebeyesus of the University of Maryland, Aminata Jalloh of Oakwood University, Jessica Davis of Penn, Victoria Pham of Brea College, Kaliya Greenidge of Penn, and Jay Sangani of Case Western Reserve University.

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Above, left, the Maroon Team: Brian Valladares of Williams College, Josephine Carrier of Union University, Brittany Wiafe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jonathan Delgadillo Lorenzo of Penn, Obaidah Bitar of Wayne University and Bryson Houston of Morehouse College.

Above right, the Yellow Team: Khalid El-Jack of Boston University, Kayla Dunn of the University of Virginia, Emma Britez Ferrante of Penn, Grace Nie a Wharton school SPUR scholar, Phiwie Ndebele-Ngwenya of Philander Smith College, Tilaye Seblework of Penn, and Jason Mazique of Williams College.