By Julie Finkelstein and Andrew Fretwell
Late summer means two things for our social media feeds: leaving camp and arriving to college. Seasonally vacated cabins and yet to be filled dorms will settle upon our screens courtesy of campers, staff, parents, and camp professionals as they transition from their summer affairs back to the realities of autumn. Too few will recognize that camp is not only a joyful reprise from the drudgeries of academics and career preparation; it is a wellspring for personal and professional development.
Those who most enthusiastically plot their trajectories are already evaluating Summer 2018 options, so allow us to provide a word of advice to those considering a future MBA: get yourself to camp. We have both earned our MBAs and appreciate how working at camp gave us a leg up on our degrees. Here is a short selection of classes for which being camp counselors and supervisors gave us a substantial advantage.
Communication and Public Speaking
Business leaders need the ability to clearly articulate vision, abstract ideas, and precise instructions to small and large groups alike. Classes heavily emphasize presentation skills, something that most people dread, but not camp counselors, they relish it. When asked where we learned to engage groups so effectively, the answer was always the same: camp. If you can stand in front of a dining hall of campers and make the post-lunch announcements worthy of your audience’s attention, you can present anything to anyone. The public speaking confidence that counselors develop is irreplaceable and made us highly valued commodities in group projects.
The word “management” probably appears more than any other word in an MBA curriculum. Most classes attempted to not only teach a set of skills or concepts, but how to channel those skills as a manager in a business setting. Management is a complex set of skills, ideas, and decisions that can often intimidate, if not overwhelm, most people in any setting. But camp counselors, and especially camp unit heads, have management experience, and then some, given their myriad experiences in managing teams and individuals.. As unit heads, we gained experience in mentoring team members, setting SMART goals, formulating action plans to achieve those goals, and holding our teammates accountable for their performance. That those discussions can be difficult is demonstrative that those experiences are a major booster in any manager’s learning curve. This experience put us at a great advantage over our classmates, who mostly had not yet had any professional supervisory experience. And while “agile management” is trendy right now in software development and supply chain management, its principles of ongoing evaluation, small self-organized teams, group troubleshooting, and incremental adjustments are foundational for every camp supervisor.
Conflict & Negotiation
Negotiation, bargaining, and mediation traditionally refer to the arbitration of disputes between employees and their bosses, however MBA programs increasingly recognize that negotiation skills in virtually every management function are essential to leading productive employees, departments, and companies. Camp staff have ample opportunity to exercise their negotiation skills. Whether it’s the challenges of young campers cohabitating for the first time, senior staff vying for scarce time or resources for their activity areas, or mediating the daily drama of co-counselors who do not see eye to eye, camp staff can become highly adept at defusing challenging situations and creating win-wins for all parties involved.
An outsider might just see tug-of-war and face paint, but by organizing color war you’ll be gaining hands on experience in large scale event management. Making a difficult phone call home to a parent is a real life crash course in customer service management. Paper plate awards and late night pizza parties are the core of what great employee recognition is all about. Camp is where young people learn to thrive in diverse communities, to become independent and resilient, and to achieve things they never thought they could. Ultimately, these are key success factors for any business student and manager too. Our MBA programs taught us a great deal about the academic theories behind great business management, but we learned how to do it at camp. Before you dust off the pant suit and portfolio, consider spending a summer at camp. The road to the boardroom runs through bunks!
Julie Finkelstein is the Director of Leadership Development at the Foundation for Jewish Camp and received an MBA from George Washington University in 2012. Andrew Fretwell is a Client Executive for IBM and earned an MBA from CUNY Baruch College in 2015. Among other Jewish summer camps at which they worked, Julie and Andrew both were counselors and unit heads at Camp Tel Yehudah.