Mines launches new first-year tradition with Oredigger Camp

The start of your first year of college can be daunting—it’s a new environment full of new experiences, new expectations, new people and, for most freshmen, even a new bed.

But this year at Colorado School of Mines, a group of incoming students will have a leg up over freshmen of years past, thanks to the inaugural Oredigger Camp.

A few weeks before the start of classes, more than 200 first-year students spent 2 ½ days up in the Rocky Mountains, having fun, making friends and getting an introduction to what it means to be an Oredigger.

Two sessions of camp were held July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 2-4 at Camp Como near Fairplay. The impact was clear well before the last group of students loaded onto the bus back to Golden.

“It made me less nervous about going to school in general,” said Liz Luce, an incoming freshman from Colorado Springs planning to study chemical and biological engineering. 

“Getting to know people beforehand is great,” added Maddie McKowen, an incoming freshman from Houston looking to study environmental engineering—and play club lacrosse along with her new friend Luce. “At least you can have some bonds before you get there.”

For campus leadership, the hope is that Oredigger Camp becomes a tradition just as integral to the Mines experience as the M Climb or E-Days. 

"The most meaningful things are when you have a shared experience,” said President Paul C. Johnson, a driving force in the creation of Oredigger Camp. “This is much more of a shared experience than, ‘Hey, we were all in the same class together.’ ”

“If you can get freshmen to come up here before school starts, spend a lot of time with peer mentors they can look up to as role models, hear the story about what Mines is all about, what’s important, how you make it through, what to focus on, then there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll be successful, that they’ll spend their time at Mines on the right things,” he said. “It’s all wrapped together.” 
Encouraging vertical connections between current and incoming Mines students is at the heart of Oredigger Camp’s design.

Peer mentors led nearly every activity at camp, with Johnson giving some opening remarks and then stepping back, joining students for meals, impromptu conversations and the occasional pickup game.

“If you think about a typical college experience or a typical high school experience, you come in with a certain group—you are freshmen this year, sophomores next year—and you’re connected laterally,” Johnson said. “But if you could be more connected vertically, you would be able to learn more from the students who have already experienced what you’re going to experience."

“I don’t want the formal part of the institution being the sole way that students connect with each other, connect with the institution, get knowledge,” he said. “I want the students to be able to tell the Mines story.”

Arriving at Oredigger Camp shortly before lunchtime, students spent most of Day 1 tackling team-building activities—low ropes, tug-of-war and more. 

Day 2 started bright and early with self-reflection and goal setting. Later, during free time, students soared through the mountain air on zip lines while others jumped in on pickup games of volleyball, 9 Square and Gaga Ball. 

Engineering challenges got students thinking and working together. In one task, small groups had to build a basket out of plastic drinking straws and tape that could protect an egg when dropped from the top of a ladder. In another, larger groups were handed three rolls of duct tape and the challenge of taping someone to the wall. The group whose student stayed stuck the longest won.  

Having a chance to interact with current Mines students and get their honest advice about surviving and thriving at Mines was super useful, said Daniel Moore, an incoming freshman from Massachusetts who is considering majoring in chemical engineering. 

“It was nice to talk to someone who actually went there, not just get something generic,” Moore said. “You could ask them anything you had on your mind. If I were at college, I’d probably be too shy to just go up to a junior and ask them something.”

In creating the camp schedule, the idea was to try to capture the unique nature of the Mines experience, camp director Eric Kressin said.

Kressin, a senior studying chemical engineering, is a lead peer mentor, president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, a student worker in the Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership (SAIL) office and a member of two campus honor societies, Blue Key and Order of Omega. 

“The goal for me was to make sure people walked away ready to join the Mines community and excited about what’s in store,” Kressin said. “There’s a lot of things that you can say about our community, but the most important one is Mines has helluva lot of pride. This camp was made with the intention of bringing that pride out of our incoming students.”

“We are the next generation of Orediggers. If we come into school with this positive attitude that we’re generating here at camp, the school itself could change,” he said. “If we boost morale early, it’s going to do wonders for the rest of campus. These moments at camp come and go in the blink of an eye, but the memories and the pride we instill in our Orediggers last forever.”

Walking back from the zip line on Day 2 of the second session, sophomore peer mentor Willie Konishi said he was already getting text messages from students who came to the first session of camp. 

“Meeting all these students is so great. They’re all amazing people,” Konishi said. “This is what Mines is all about.”

The undergraduate student body vice president spent the whole week at Oredigger Camp.

“It’s building a community,” Konishi said. “The M Climb, the kickoff event are great but they’re still at school. This is away from the stress of school and a way for people to connect socially.”

Moving forward, Oredigger Camp really has the potential to be something just as important to the Mines experience as the M Climb, said Dan Fox, vice president of student life.

“No one could fathom not having an M Climb,” Fox said. “That's where I want Oredigger Camp to go, not just as a tradition but as something that makes a big difference and something they’ll never forget.”

In the future, both Fox and Johnson hope to increase the number of students participating in Oredigger Camp, as well as further involve campus, with more faculty and staff coming up to camp for a day or two to interact with Mines’ newest students. 

“Oredigger Camp is an opportunity to be introduced to what it means to be a Colorado School of Mines student and what it means to be part of a community that’s greater than just yourself and your grades,” Fox said. “It’s a point of departure.

2017 Oredigger Camp

Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3361 | erusch@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu