A panoramic image of the Wood Island Lighthouse in Biddeford, where several leadership students gather to teach each other survival skills

Leadership students play ‘Survivor' off Biddeford coast

As the boat drifted toward the rocky shore, gulls began to flutter about in the midmorning sun — a welcome, or a warning, the passengers thought. After the riders disembarked and began their half-mile trek down the boardwalk, the gulls began to silence their calls.

Arriving at the island were not fishermen, not sailors, not curious travelers. Rather, they were students, here to teach each other basic survival skills as part of a leadership course taught by Aimee Vlachos, Ed.D., CPRP, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Business at the University of New England.

Students gather at the dock on Wood Island as they embark on a lesson plan to play 'Survivor'

Students march up the dock toward the lighthouse.

As the group meandered toward the boardwalk’s end, the imposing structure that is Wood Island Lighthouse came into view. At the foot of the lighthouse, students took turns demonstrating their assigned tasks to the rest of the group.

According to Vlachos, the trip’s intent was for students to learn leadership skills through group instruction.

“The Survivor Island idea came about because I wanted to create an assignment that allowed students to display expert leadership while in a location where we all needed to rely on each other and show the importance of group dynamics,” she said.

Ariana Walker (Sustainability and Business, ’23) said the ability to effectively lead groups will be crucial in her career following graduation.

Wood Island Light

Ariana Walker demonstrates how to pitch a tent.

“Everyone has something to bring to the table, and it was great to see how today’s lesson will translate to the business world,” she reflected. “Not everyone here today knew how to pitch a tent, but I’ve known how to do that my whole life. The ability to stand up in front of a group and showcase your expertise allows you to build confidence and take initiative by leading the group."

Cullen Hunt (Business, ’23) was responsible for teaching his classmates how to set up a camping grill.

For Hunt, who hopes to one day own his own business as an electrician, stepping up as a leader is crucial in terms of workplace safety.

“That was the most difficult thing, being able to properly instruct my classmates on how to use the grill safely,” Hunt remarked. “In a group setting, teamwork skills are very important, and you have to be confident in your ability to work with other people. I think the most important things I learned from today are the concepts of what it means to be a leader.”

Cullen Hunt roasts a hot dog over a fire he built using a WhisperLite grill
Students gather at the base of Wood Island Light
Students march to the boardwalk of Wood Island
A student constructs a compass from wooden sticks
Students learn to tie various types of knots on the UNE dock