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Bearkat Camp Welcomes Freshmen

Feb. 10, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Tara Lestarjette

Sam Houston State University has a rich history of spirit, pride and tradition. One of the ways SHSU’s Recreational Sports program is linking the past with the present is through Bearkat Camp, an informal initiation for incoming freshmen into the Bearkat family.

For the past three years, Recreational Sports has collaborated with Student Activities, the Dean of Students' Office, New Student Orientation and the office of Student Success Initiatives to provide registered, incoming freshmen with the opportunity to attend one of two sessions in early August before the fall semester begins.

Currently, Bearkat Camp takes place at the Forest Glen Camp and Conference Center, roughly 16 miles from SHSU. The future home of Bearkat Camp is at SHSU's own 360-acre University Camp in Riverside.

The purpose of the camp is to “assist incoming students in making the transition from high school into college,” according to Chris Mahlen, traditions camp and outdoor coordinator. “As part of this transition, students get to experience the spirit, pride and tradition of Sam Houston State University.”

“Bearkat Camp is also designed to provide an opportunity for new students to build relationships before classes begin,” said Mahlen. “This way they can walk onto the campus for the first time with friendships already formed. It makes the transition into college so much easier.”

The result has been a resounding success as student participation nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010 and 99 percent of attendees said in a survey that they would recommend Bearkat Camp. This year, the 430 spots are expected to fill quickly.

“Seeing it grow so much makes you feel like you’ve got to be doing something right,” said Courtney Weber, student director for the past three years. “We’ve seen about 14 percent of freshmen attend the camp, but we’re hoping to raise the percentage to at least 25 soon.”

The camp covers four days and three nights of tribal competitions, small group discussions, team building exercises, optional recreational activities and tournaments, spirit and tradition experiences and evening socials, according to Mahlen. Each day campers are taught the spirit, pride and tradition of SHSU.

During the camp, the students are divided into two tribes, which contain several small groups of 12-15 students. Tribes and small groups are then in ongoing competitions with each other.

“Students are able to meet a variety of other campers in their tribes, small groups and even in their cabins,” said Mahlen.

Roughly 10 SHSU professors from various departments participate in small group discussions and activities, giving students a chance to ask questions and provide feedback.

Optional afternoon activities include swimming in the lake and sports. Socials are held each night, including a swim-in movie where “a large screen is set up by the pool, allowing students to swim up and watch it,” said Mahlen.

The camp also gives SHSU upperclassmen opportunities as volunteer positions are needed for each session. The camp staff includes a full time camp director, three student directors, 32 student counselors and eight student program staff. Interviewing is currently underway.

“Many of our volunteers are students who have attended the camp and keep coming back,” said Mahlen. “They enjoy it that much.”

Sophomore mass communication major, Tommie Cross, has been a part of Bearkat Camp since its inception in 2009 when he attended as a camper and is now a men’s head counselor.

“I remember getting on the bus, heading to the camp,” said Cross. “Everyone was quiet, but then on the way back, we were exchanging phone numbers and having a great time.”

Like many volunteers, Cross said he has stayed at the camp because it provides a way for him to give back to the university.

“Not only did I have a great time, I met my roommate, future classmates and friends at the camp. I entered my first semester at Sam feeling confident. That’s something I want other others to feel, and I’d like to do what I can to see other kids have an even better experience than I had.”

“I was going to transfer from Sam Houston, but being involved in Bearkat Camp helped me to feel connected to the university,” said Weber. “I actually decided to stay at Sam because of it.  I think the camp helps SHSU to be more than a ‘suitcase school’ for many students.”

Registration for the 2011 sessions, scheduled for Aug. 7-10 and Aug. 10-13, is now open.

The fee is $115, which includes meals, lodging, transportation and programming. Applications for both freshmen and volunteers can be found at http://www.shsu.edu/~rca_www/bearkatcamp/studentreg.html.

For more information, contact Mahlen at 936.294.1947 or visit the Bearkat Camp website.



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