Teamwork and a mild-mannered approach helped 17 student leaders find a comfort zone as they spent two days interacting with manatees in the waters of Crystal River, Florida, during winter break.

The swim was part of a weeklong learning experience that allowed students to sharpen their leadership skills and develop relationships with other student leaders. A pre-swim seminar emphasized the importance a calm approach to leadership and taught how to work in a team environment.

“When students swim with manatees, it gives them the opportunity to put the leadership theories they learned into practice,” said David DeAngelis, director of the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement. “It is remarkable to see how much students gain from the experience.”

Student leader Lina Rodriguez admitted to being a little nervous before swimming with the manatees, but after taking a few deep breaths, she was up for the challenge and found the experience both memorable and a confidence booster.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “It taught me how to take control of a situation when out of my comfort zone.”

The students and staff members visited the University of South Florida, meeting with campus administrators to compare the student leadership programs at both schools.

The next stop was Disney World, where the group combined an educational workshop with some fun in the amusement park.