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First, know thyself

Students in DU's Managing Stress immersion course learn to balance mind, spirit and body on a Colorado ranch. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Ordinarily, management Professor Nancy Sampson teaches creative problem solving, business strategy and sport management in DU’s Daniels College of Business. But for the last decade Sampson has moved beyond the ordinary during spring and summer interterms, taking students to a ranch in Guffey, Colo., to learn, well, self-awareness.

Sampson knows what you’re thinking. But, she says, “You’ve got to know yourself before you can be a leader.”

The five-day Managing Stress immersion course takes place on the 3,000-acre Saddle Soar ranch in Park County, 125 miles southwest of Denver. Students partake in self-evaluation and wellness activities along with horse and nature sessions.

“Because stress does impact every aspect of your life, we wanted to address that,” says Catherine Ferguson, Special Programs marketing manager, noting that it’s the only course of its kind in DU’s curriculum.

“We’re the most unlikely trio of faculty: a cowboy, a former skier turned psychologist and a PhD in management,” Sampson says.

Each plays an integral part.

Larry Mahan, a six-time world champion all-around cowboy who rose to rodeo fame in the mid ’60s, teaches horsemanship — often to students who have never been astride a horse. Calling himself “the horse of the course,” Mahan focuses on helping students learn awareness and trust.

Diana McNab, a former member of the Canadian National Ski Team and Mahan’s wife, holds degrees in sports psychology and life coaching. In the 1990s, McNab headed DU’s wellness program. She now helps students complete in-depth inventories regarding personality traits, nutrition and exercise, and mental and emotional skills. Then, she creates personalized programs for each student.

Sampson, who since 1972 has taught DU students how to manage others, is enthusiastic about teaching them to manage themselves. She brings it all together so that rather than a one-time experience, students make lasting change.

Sampson requires students to use the new techniques they learn for 21 days and write a paper on how they’re implementing stress management. They must explain what the inventories revealed about how stressors manifest and offer specific ways they’ll manage stress long-term.

Students must be practical and ensure that their plans fit within their budgets and schedules, Sampson says, and include adjustments when things aren’t working.

“As a management professor, this is absolutely the right thing to do to prepare people to be leaders. If they can learn who they are, how they show up in the world and how to move that in a positive direction, they’ll have a more mature view of dealing with others,” Sampson says.

Mike Niyompong (MBA finance/MS management ’07) thought the course would help him find balance.

“For a long time I thought that balance meant balancing work, school and play. Now I think it’s the balance inside of me: mind, spirit, body and emotions,” Niyompong says.

While life at the ranch was relaxing and he loved riding, Niyompong says his stress level returned when he got back to Denver. But he remembered what he’d learned and soon corrected course.

Combining wellness and management theories offers “a uniquely Colorado self-development program that’s at a high level,” Sampson says.

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