Students challenged with West Point experience

Exhausted but enriched by the experience, the second and final group of rising high school seniors departed West Point Friday, after completing the week-long Summer Leaders Seminar.

As these students begin to take a serious look into college choices and their future after high school, the Summer Leaders Seminar, or SLS, offers an opportunity to find out what life is like as a West Point cadet and what it takes to become a leader of character in the U.S. Army.

The West Point Directorate of Admissions offers two week-long SLS sessions every June that are tailored for students’ specific academic goals and allows them to tour the departments and learn in classrooms on subjects that interest them. The SLS participants are led by a cadet cadre, they sleep in cadet barracks, conduct early-morning physical training and engage in hands-on military training activities.

There is no sugarcoating anything, either. West Point wants its future cadets and leaders to be sure of their decisions so cadets provide the prospective candidates with all the information about the academy while demonstrating the academic, physical and military stressors that define the 47-month experience at the U.S. Military Academy.

On average, 4,000 students apply for SLS, and selection depends on grade point average, college entrance exam scores and class rank. Two sessions allow approximately 1,000 students to attend, and many students will also apply to similar programs at the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

“My sister is coming to SLS for the second session,” 2nd. Lt. Elyse Ping, a graduate helping with the SLS, said. “She will also be going to the Air Force Academy SLS right after.”

Ping says the students learn more than what it is like to be a cadet and learning military tactics–they learn the importance of teamwork.

“They have to get motivated,” Ping said. “They have to complete tasks that require them to come up with a solution to a problem and work together to solve it. It helps them with teamwork and camaraderie.”

At an obstacle course, students were directed to cross a rickety bridge without touching the ground or anything red. The rails of the bridge were red. It was up to the group to figure how to get across. They formed a ‘man bridge’ by having two or three students lie across the bridge to steady it and one person walking would straddle them to get across. Mission accomplished … eventually. Although, there are time limits involved, students have to employ strategy and trial-and-error thinking at each station.

Students were led by cadets from the Class of 2013 and 2014 as part of their leadership training, as well as Soldiers from Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., who, as specialized weapons instructors, provided familiarization to the SLS students on weapons and combatives.

“Many of these students are really motivated about coming to West Point,” Cadet Juliette Wallerstein said. “It’s great spending time with those who want to serve our country. I didn’t go to SLS myself, but many of the cadets leading the SLS did.”

Once the students graduate from SLS, they receive an admissions packet from the Directorate of Admissions and for the past few years, about 50 percent of those graduates attended West Point.

Jesse Wealing from Arizona is one of those who is hoping to be accepted to West Point.

“West Point is my number one choice,” Wealing said. “I guess it is partly location, but my family have been in the Army for generations.”

To Wealing, Army life is almost genetic.

“This is fantastic,” he said. “I always enjoy military-style things. Everyone who comes here wants to be the best Soldier they can. It is awesome.”

For more information about The Summer Leaders Experience at West Point , go to www.usma.edu/admissions/sitepages/summer.aspx