Teeth chattering, Paola Bernal ‘17 and her friends huddled together in the raft as driving rain poured atop them.
It was Paola’s turn to jump. With trepidation, she held her breath and plunged into the water.
While the fear that had Paola’s heart pounding was real and intense, it was tempered somewhat by the fact that this harrowing situation was taking place in a pool in Groton, Conn., and not on the high seas.
Paola, along with Smitha Pallaki ’17, Rebeca Salas ’19, Fatima Salcido ’17, Evelyn Aviles ’17, and Vippy Yee from the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC) were taking part in an aquatic survival workshop, during which they learned leadership and survival skills through a number of disaster simulations.
Sponsored by LILAC, the training was run by Survival Systems USA, the world’s leader in underwater egress training and water survival techniques.
The workshop took place in a massive indoor pool equipped with the company’s Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS®), a plastic and metal vessel used to simulate plane crashes.
To replicate a water landing, a crane lowered the METS® into the pool in darkness, and the workshop participants were tasked with escaping.
Other activities in the workshop included learning to right an emergency raft, keeping warm as a group, and escaping when your aircraft has flipped.
“The scenarios were so realistic,” says Paola, a sociology major. “It was a really deep pool, and the water was cold.”
Although learning plane crash survival leadership sounds like a job best suited to daredevils, the students say that the workshop is beneficial for anyone.
Latin American and Latino Studies major Rebeca Salas ’19 says that she was initially terrified by the first activity, which involved jumping off a 14-foot high platform and inflating her life vest.
“But when I floated up to the surface and then to the opposite end of the pool, I felt proud of myself and so ready to challenge myself more,” says Rebeca.
Before the practical activities began, the participants first completed leadership training, preparing them to take turns leading the group during simulations.
“I learned a lot about how to better care for myself and lead others while on aircrafts and other transportation,” says Smitha, a mathematics major from Bridgewater, NJ. “This was a great opportunity to work on keeping a rational head in high-energy situations, while in a safe environment.”
“Learning survival skills is a side benefit of our L&TD course," says Training Coordinator Jon Ehm. "The group from Bryn Mawr came through our doors already leaders in their own right. Although, each had little experience with water survival scenarios. Several expressed nervousness and trepidation initially, but really came through when put to the test. They worked together, performed while facing fears, and assumed responsibility for group results through the exercises. The sense of accomplishment and boost in confidence was evident at the conclusion of the course."
Paola says that the workshop radically changed her experience of flying to and from her home in Houston, TX.
“I was far more observant of where the exits were,” says Paola. “If anything were to happen, I’d know what to do.”
Survival Systems USA is an employee-owned company with over three decades of survival training experience, serving both the private and public sectors. They offer courses to people in a wide variety of industries and backgrounds as a way to build self-confidence and workplace morale.
“Our courses are useful for the world beyond college," says Survival Systems Development Manager Keith Wille. "The Leadership & Team Development Course offers students a unique experiential learning opportunity, a chance to discover leadership strengths, and further development of communication skills. This one-day hands-on workshop allows engagement with key competencies needed as future workforce leaders and team members.”
LILAC is hoping to sponsor these workshops again next fall. Students interested in the program should reach out to Jessica Hollinger.