By Carly Lanning
As I hung by a harness, strapped to the ropes course, I could not believe that I had been talked into doing this. I had seen the ropes course next to the ARC, a tall, daunting structure that on occasion has people moving slowly across. They look so small and graceful from the ground, but actually being the person with the helmet and one rope, 40 feet in the air, relying on the few other people in your group, is a completely different experience. How had I come to be tied to a rope, flying around in the most ungraceful manner?
Simple, Drew McCrary: the ropes course man.
In reality, the reason I was balancing from a tiny rope, gripping the arms of the girls around me as we slowly shuffled from structure to structure, was for a bonding retreat with my fellow peer educators. Through the course we were to learn about the leadership styles within our group and how to begin working with one another. But at that moment, looking down at the eager and encouraging face of Drew below, I was thinking less about leadership and more about the pain in my biceps.
As Director of the Team Challenge Program for Campus Recreation, Drew works with groups, both affiliated with UCI and the community, to create programs that highlight the dynamics of their team.
“We build a foundation about mindfulness with each person and their organization and start a conversation of ‘how am I a leader?’ We see that, ‘Hey your group might have dysfunctions, and we recognize that, but we are going to focus on the things that give the group energy,” Drew said.
Working with groups that include resident advisors, peer educators and clubs, Drew takes pride in finding a program that creates a bond between the members of the group while still fitting within their budget.
“The most fascinating things about what we do is that if I have a certain activity or game and I run it a hundred times, with a hundred different groups, it is literally different every single time,” he said.
A UCI alumnus graduating in 2004 with a bachelor’s in philosophy, Drew has always been attracted to the leadership community at UCI.
“I identified as an undergrad that I liked working with people and wanted a position in which I could utilize my personality. I am very, very outgoing. I like being a leader but at the same time I get to give back while leading a group.”
After graduation, Drew moved to Japan for a year to teach English and backpack across Southeast Asia. Coming back to Irvine, he spent time facilitating with Team Up, the outdoor leadership program at the ARC, before joining the Peace Corps and moving to Ukraine. With a life brimming with wanderlust and world travel, Drew returned to UCI in January 2010 to take his current position.
Now, Drew, who is also a Master’s candidate in Organizational Leadership at Chapman University, creates individualized programs to meet leadership organizations needs. With a love for leadership and a natural talent for seeing positive change in others before they do, Drew’s energy and passion is contagious.
But his general love for life is not an accident.
“Who I am as a person is connected to having cancer when I was 15. Beating that and surviving that, at that point when I got better, it was a weird time. I was 15 and what do you know when you are 15? I made a decision at that point that if I wasn’t doing things that I was passionate about then I was going to do something else. If you track where I have been from Japan to the Peace Corps and back, it connects to me following things that I am really passionate about.”
Having returned to Irvine, Drew has utilized his personality, positivity and good nature to inspire and challenge others.
“I am really passionate about people and being in service to leadership. That is why I am here and that is what I have the opportunity to do all the time. I certainly think it all connects. It’s funny, I think of where I am now, if I were to die today, I am good. I think my advice is to risk more. If you take the risk you are clear, you move on and grow and become stronger but if you don’t, then you are going to end up being in your head about it.”
Believing that leadership takes on many forms, Drew takes the time to inspire and understand each group that comes into his program.
And just as he predicted, after peeling off my sweaty helmet after three hours in the air, I felt an intense sense of accomplishment for not only myself but for my group. Since our days together on the ropes, my group has grown closer and closer with each class and workshop we teach together. Between the laughing, sweating and supporting of one another, when we weren’t looking, a foundation of acceptance, empowerment and belief in one another formed between each of us.
Thank you, Drew McCrary, for sharing a bit of your magic with each of us and giving us the space and direction to turn our group from a random group of students to a family.