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Rediscovering Leadership: The Haskayne Wilderness Retreat

Naturalist David Polis once famously asked, “Must we always teach our children with books?” and then explained what could take their place: “Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”

And the data backs Polis up. A 2006 study by Dennis Eaton published in Cognitive and Affective Learning in Outdoor Education found students’ cognitive abilities developed better outside the classroom than in.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are positive effects on memory, communication, self-reliance, motivation, stress levels and more through interaction with the outdoors, while also learning about these elements as well.


Feature image courtesy of Marnie Burkhart – Jazhart Studios

Nature is the most remarkable classroom for any kind of student, and taking students into it is a feature of MBA programs where schools turn to effective ways of teaching their students about leadership and team-building. Taking students into the Rocky Mountains is probably the ideal place for the kind of education Polis had in mind.

MBA students at the Haskayne School of Business are offered the unique opportunity to put the books and walls away for a week and learn real-life skills, plus get an appreciation for the Canadian wilderness thanks to Haskayne’s Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business (CCAL).

Among many other adventures, CCAL offers a Wilderness Retreat for MBA students, a six day retreat set in the Kananskis region. It combines outdoor activities, personal growth challenges, team building, self-reflection, leadership, and cross-cultural learning in a place of immense natural beauty that is usually on the bucket travel list for visiting international students.

The course develops leadership capabilities in the context of sustainable development engaging indigenous elders and deep reflective learning with the option of a 24-hour wilderness solo.


Feature image courtesy of Marnie Burkhart – Jazhart Studios

Haskayne School of Business professor Dr. David Lertzman has been running the course since 2004.

“Great leaders are people of exceptional integrity, vision, and creativity who inspire others to achieve their best for the greater good,” said Lertzman.

And according to Jennifer Krahn, director of Haskayne’s CCAL, students love it.

“The overwhelming response from students who have participated in these programs is not only positive; many describe the experience as life-changing,” she said.

Student Johnnie Allan who participated in a Haskayne Leadership Expedition said the professors too had a profound effect on him.

“They not only discussed what we wanted to get out of the program, they wanted to inspire us to think about what we wanted out of our lives. It was incredible,” he said Allan.

And what better place for self-reflection than the Canadian Rockies, set in the provinces of both British Columbia and Alberta and featuring jagged icy peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and diverse wildlife. Much of the Rockies are protected by national and provincial parks and feature famous sites such as Takakkaw Falls, the Athabasca Glacier, and Banff’s glacier-fed Lake Louise.

Adventure education programming has increased in popularity in the last ten years as it becomes widely recognized that skills and knowledge can be learned just as well, if not sometimes better, outside the classroom.


Feature image courtesy of Marnie Burkhart – Jazhart Studios

A recent grant of $3 million from Hal Kvisle, MBA’82 and former CEO of TransCanada and Talisman Energy, will help to broaden and expand the spectrum of just how that takes place at Haskayne.

“Many young people do not have the opportunity to immerse themselves in high-impact operating situations,” said Kvisle. “Adventure Leadership provides an important alternative, a very real environment for confronting and resolving complex situations. It is inspiring to see the positive impact on the leadership capacity for students who participate in these programs.”

MBA students at Haskayne can also benefit from a curriculum tailored to suit their needs. These include daytime or evening courses to fit their schedule, and they can be combined with other study fields.

When it comes to career prospects, Haskayne MBA graduates on average not only enjoy an increase in salary, but students are offered a diverse range of job opportunities. Many graduates are hired within three months of finishing their MBA with an average salary of over $90,000.

One final benefit of studying at the Haskayne School of Business is its location in Calgary, as it has Canada’s highest concentration of corporate offices per capita and is considered the energy capital of Canada.

Find out more about the Haskayne School of Business here, about CCAL here and keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

Feature image courtesy of Marnie Burkhart – Jazhart Studios

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