By: Mollie Lastovica
In the fall of 2012, approximately 3,000 incoming graduate students will begin their journey at Texas A&M University. For many, this will be their first time living in Texas and/or the United States. While the transition may seem daunting to those incoming students, current ALEC graduate students have devoted their time and leadership to help alleviate fears of the inevitable change of starting a graduate program.
Kevin Andrews and Sarah Ho, both Ph.D. students in the ALEC Department, served as Director and Counselor, respectively for the 2012 Grad Camp, held August 15-16 in College Station.
“Grad Camp is a two day event for incoming graduate students,” Ho says. “We try to show them the different resources available on campus and the history and traditions of A&M.”
Grad Camp first launched in August 2009 and in just three summers it has evolved drastically. After assessing logistics such as financial resources, transportation and students’ needs, many changes have been made since the first camp to mold it into what the planning team hopes is a convenient, exciting experience for campers.
“This year’s Grad Camp took a dramatic departure from the past few camps,” Andrews says. “We changed it from the Fish Camp, T-Camp and Howdy Camp model of throwing everyone into a maroon sea to introducing the Aggie Spirit more gradually.”
The Director Team consisted of Andrews, Assistant Director Ryan Sinnet and Adviser Tracie Lowe. The team met and worked throughout the spring and summer to plan the event. For Andrews, who has not assisted with Grad Camp in years past, his graduate studies actually aided him in the groups’ deliberations.
“I used the program development and analysis components of my graduate program to look at last year’s camp evaluations and see what could be changed,” Andrews says. “I took the approach of knowing that the desired outcome for campers was not to just be informed, but to also take a step of action and participate in the programs, organizations and activities that were introduced to them.”
Location and presentations were two factors that helped to define the Grad Camp experience. For each of the two days, the Director Team opted for locations that were symbolic to the campers’ experience as Aggies.
“The first day was spent at the MSC and campers could walk into the heart of campus with a focus on being a current student,” Andrews says. “The second day was at the Alumni Center which showed campers the lifelong impact that Texas A&M will have on their lives.”
A number of speakers presented to the group including Marketing and Communications Director Jason Cook, Student Body President John Claybrook, Former Yell Leader Marti Holmes and Head Soccer Coach G Guerrieri among others.
“I tried to pick speakers to discuss on-campus resources who were also able to incorporate the Aggie Spirit into their presentations,” Andrews says. “Campers were being exposed to those things that make Texas A&M unique through their talks.”
The first day of Grad Camp exposed campers to resources across campus that are specific to their needs, while the second day focused on the traditions and Spirit of Aggieland.
“The first day we focused on the core values of Texas A&M,” Andrews says. “On day two we introduced campers to the bigger traditions across campus and provided them with information on how to find out more about those and other traditions.”
As one of 13 counselors, Ho focused on facilitating discussion amongst her small group of seven campers.
“My role was to lead discussion and ask them questions,” Ho says. “I would ask them what concerns they may have and try to answer their questions. I also shared my own experience at Texas A&M and helped them better understand the rules and regulations as a grad student and responsibilities as a TA.”
Counselors also focused on assimilating campers to life in College Station.
“For a lot of the campers, this was their first week in College Station and their first week in Texas,” Ho says. “We talked about what it is like to live here and what there is to do within the community.”
While Ho and the other counselors strived to share their knowledge and experiences with campers, they also benefitted from Grad Camp in establishing relationships and extending their Aggie network.
“The most rewarding part for me was being able to share knowledge with campers and them leaving with a better understanding of what it means to be an Aggie,” Ho says.
From the Director’s perspective, counselors like Ho and the speaker lineup truly defined the 2012 Grad Camp as a successful event.
“The speakers and counselors made Grad Camp what it was,” Andrews says. “The counselors led actual discussions with campers and laid the seeds for friendships. The speakers each possessed a wealth of knowledge and were all passionate people who were able to convey the Aggie Spirit to incoming students, thanks to the people who volunteer their time to help welcome new students to campus.”