College dedicates Fish Real Estate Leadership Challenge Course
The Fish Real Estate Leadership Challenge Course, the creation of which involved the same collaborative spirit that it will nurture in those who use it, was dedicated Aug. 11 on the wooded southcentral side of Pennsylvania College of Technology.
The Challenge Course – a remarkable project funded by Brent and Daria Fish in memory of Brent’s father, William H. Fish – “will foster leadership and team-building skills for generations of students, faculty, alumni and industry partners,” said Loni N. Kline, vice president for college relations. Brent is president of Fish Real Estate, and Daria is head of corporate communications for OxiWear.
An interdisciplinary focus was reflected throughout the development and construction process, which involved the college’s General Services Department, architectural technology and concrete science classes, a helping of off-campus inspiration, and a picnic table donated by the Sigma Pi philanthropic fraternity.
The intricate design includes a bridge that honors the Fish family’s appreciation for the outdoors: stainless steel railings resembling fly-fishing rods, with hooks dangling from lines that drop to a dry creek bed below.
“We are standing before an innovative addition to our hands-on learning portfolio, one that deepens the applied technology experience and creates unique opportunities for our students to discover their leadership styles and test their communication skills,” college President Davie Jane Gilmour said. “A stimulating learning experience that will foster trusted and meaningful relationships. Bill Fish knew the value of creating a world in which we all want to live, and now his legacy inspires students to follow.”
The 14,400-square-foot course was conceived and propelled by Rob Cooley, associate professor of anthropology and environmental science, who was inspired by transformational experiences among students in study-abroad expeditions and his Outdoor Recreation as a Therapeutic Tool course. He was also aided in his vision through research and consultation with Tony Draus, from the Bloomsburg-based EdVenture Builders, during a Spring 2019 sabbatical.
“Penn College exemplifies hands-on, experiential learning,” Cooley said. “I feel outdoor challenge education adds hands-on experiences that build empathy, self-awareness, leadership, self-confidence and teamwork. The value of these connections far exceeds the ‘High-five, wasn’t that awesome?’ feel-good kind of story when you get into the theory behind it all.”
In addition to curricular benefits, the course will be used for such diverse purposes as student activities, ROTC maneuvers, Residence Life programming, club events, summer camps, corporate training and faculty retreats.
“I am absolutely honored and humbled that the Fish family has chosen to make my dream a reality, and I look forward to working hard to maximize the utilization of this resource,” Cooley said. “Everything about this effort has been about collaboration, teamwork and shared goals, and I am delighted to have this resource to share with the college, our students and our guests.”
Three of his students – human services and restorative justice majors Colin G. Browne Jr., a New York City native now living in Williamsport; Cody R. Englehart, of Montgomery; and Krystle J. Richardson, of Cogan Station – shared valuable lessons learned through their adventures outside the classroom, as well as gratitude for the Fish family’s foresighted investment.
While joking in the afternoon’s 90-degree heat that “perhaps we should have supported a pool project,” Brent Fish was genuinely impressed by the students’ earnest testimonials and said the Challenge Course amplifies Penn College’s holistic approach to applied technology education.
“At a time when there’s a ‘little more angst’ in the world, the teaching of interaction and communication is increasingly necessary and important,” he said. “It’s not the message itself, but how it’s delivered. Why not provide a vehicle to be effective leaders and communicators?”
For members of the award-winning General Services grounds crew, whose horticultural magic has brightened every corner of the college’s campuses, the Challenge Course ranks among the top on their all-time favorites list.
“It’s an attention-getter. If you drive by or walk by, it gets everyone’s attention. ‘What is that over there?’” said Andrea L. Dildine, horticulturist/grounds and motorpool manager. “For this site, the terrain was pretty flat, so we wanted it to undulate and look like water would come through the dry creek bed and go under the bridge. And maybe some people would say, ‘Was there water really here?’ We just want people to use their imagination when they come to different areas on campus!”
While users of the space will work on their group dynamics, Chad L. Karstetter, horticulturist/motor pool lead person, similarly cherishes the inherent brainstorming as he and his creative colleagues tackle each new endeavor.
“Penn College is a big playground for us. We do get to experiment. We come up with ideas, and we have great support from Penn College to put our ideas to work,” he said. “It’s fun. Every project that we work on, there is a part of it that’s really unique and that we’re all passionate about.”
Integral support for the Challenge Course came from Dorothy J. Gerring, associate professor of architectural technology, whose students prepared helpful renderings of the concept; Franklin H. Reber Jr., building construction technology instructor, who led students in pouring the concrete sidewalks and bridge; and Chad M. Aloisio, a General Services service and design technician, who created the fishing-rod railings and other enhancements.
The formal dedication took place on the bridge, which the principals opened by unclasping carabiners, as Kline called particular attention to the setting.
“Let this be symbolic of bridging the gap between innovative concept and real-world application,” she said.
Attendees, including board members of the college and its foundation, were then invited to join Cooley and his students for activities on the course. Among those on hand were Brent and Daria Fishes’ sons, Andrew and Ryan; Brent’s mother, Mary “Sis” Fish; and Daria’s mother, Diane Pelesh.
For more about giving opportunities at Penn College, visit College Relations or call 570-320-8020.
For information about the college’s human services and restorative justice program, visit the School of Business, Arts & Sciences or call 570-327-4520.
– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor
Kline welcomes the afternoon crowd, thanking the Fish family for its support and belief in the project.
Brent and Daria Fish, along with sons Ryan (left) and Andrew, stand among the fruits of their generosity.
Cooley explains the Challenge Course’s origins: a work/play philosophy that has resonated with his students more soundly than traditional class lectures.
Browne characterizes Cooley’s outdoor recreation course as “hands-down, the best class I have ever taken. I even have a copy of (five essential) values on my wall to remind me that I should always do my best to encourage and be a good role model in life, which will make me a better person and human services professional when I graduate.”
A stepping stone to self-improvement identifies the benefactors.
“This is a prime example of the future learning techniques that can be applied to get more students out of their comfort zones and show them that growth is also fun,” said Richardson, who – told she would never walk again after a 2020 motorcycle accident – strode to the podium with confidence. “Thank you for looking out for students at Penn College,” she told the Fishes. “I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.”
The president and husband Frederick T. listen to the students’ emotion-filled stories.
Opportunities take hold at the junction of contemplation and collaboration.
Englehart tells the crowd how Cooley’s class guided him over a personal obstacle and affirmed his human services career choice. “It is OK to rely on others for help,” he said. “That is what our major is about: helping people get through things that trouble them.”
Cooley and wife Jennifer listen to one of his students speaking.
Gilmour offers evidence of the donors’ firmly planted community roots, predicting “their thoughtful philanthropy will influence countless tomorrows.”
Daria’s mother, Diane Pelesh (left) and Brent’s mother, Mary (center), listen to the president’s comments about the late William H. Fish.
Brent Fish invokes an oft-heard motto at his workplace – “manage expectations” – a leadership and communication strategy that he said relates to “why we love this project.”
Artfully placed stones blend with the natural surroundings between campus and the river.
Physics professor David S. Richards (left), one of Cooley’s supportive faculty colleagues, listens to presidential remarks alongside behind-the-scenes creators Dildine, Karstetter and Draus.
Clasps await uncoupling to officially open the course.
After doing the honors of the “ribbon cutting” (releasing of carabiners) …
… Gilmour and the Fishes walk across the bridge.
In addition to the speakers, other students joined the audience.
“Epic adventures,” memorable moments that punctuate Cooley’s life and livelihood, await at the Fish Real Estate Leadership Challenge Course.
On a day when even oppressive humidity was no match for goodwill, Brent and Andrew Fish talk with Cooley about their shared accomplishment.
Stephanie Calder (left), a Realtor at Fish Real Estate, and Christine B. Kavanagh, assistant professor of nursing, converse with Rob and Jennifer Cooley’s twin sons.
William H. Fish’s “adventurous spirit and love for the outdoors,” related by President Gilmour in her remarks, is represented in the fishing-rod detail on the bridge railing.
Brent Fish clearly enjoys taking part in activities, as well as seeing his family’s investment getting immediate use.
Relieved that their speaking engagements are behind them (and the Challenge Course is before them), the day’s student speakers savor their moment out of the sun.
The Fishes are joined by Kavanagh and John M. Confer, a Penn College Foundation board member, for an exercise in cooperation.
A fly-fishing lure adds an authentic touch to a faux creek bed.
The president joins the Fish family in celebrating “a relationship that spans decades.”
Brent Fish and Browne work with the “buzz rings,” encouraged by human services and restorative justice major Kailan K. Marshall (right) and community leader Mary Ann Johnson, a Penn College alumna and scholarship donor.
A lively and laughter-filled activity involves a back-and-forth ball toss, as participants call out names of those about to make the catch. Holding balls are Daria and Andrew Fish; at center is Ethan M. McKenzie, a College Relations fellow.
A circular motif, curved metal framing a fishing reel and tires in the distance, exemplifies a well-rounded Penn College education.
Ryan Fish tries out the “ropes” course.
The Breuder Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center (right) provides an orienting landmark for the Challenge Course and its lineup of tires.
Introduced by Kline (center), the Fishes meet General Services’ Dildine and Karstetter.
Members of the Fish Real Estate team gather for a group photo.
Uprooted driftwood is attractively repurposed at the site.
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