Aug. 11, 2011
Campers give the Mini Whoosh, a gesture designed to resemble a tiny shooting comet. It’s one of several traditions students learn about during their retreat.
The Making of a Comet: Camp Preps the Class of 2015
Freshmen Get First Lessons on Traditions, From Temoc to Doing the 'Whoosh'
They come from widely different backgrounds, but they all leave as Comets.
For more than 300 freshmen entering UT Dallas, Comet Camp is a three-day, two-night journey that helps students make friends, and bridge the gap between high school and college life.
Video: Students, Sun and Lakeside Fun
Activities at the campsite on Lake Lewisville included a ropes course and more.
“I’ve been to summer camps, and this seemed like an extension of that, but with the people I’m going to be spending the next four years of my life with,” said Taylor Kornfuehrer, a biochemistry major from Buda, Texas. “It was a good opportunity to connect in a way that I wouldn’t be able to on a day-to-day basis.”
When they arrive at Camp Copass on Lake Lewisville in Denton, members of the class of 2015 divided into small groups with names that represent various aspects of student life at UT Dallas: Temoc, Whoosh, Spirit Rock, Love Jack, Meteor, Mercury and Comet.
Camp sessions school freshmen in the University’s history and traditions and teach them the UT Dallas alma mater and fight song. They also get lessons in leadership, communication and building relationships.
The sessions are led by Orientation Team Mentors, or OTMs, upperclassmen who share their insight about the ins and outs of the UT Dallas experience. In addition to Comet Camp, OTMs lead orientations, Success Camp and fall programs such as Road Warriors.
A ropes course and zip line were popular features at Comet Camp Session Orange, held in late June at Camp Copass in Denton.
Harlan Cohen, author of the bestselling college survival guide The Naked Roommate, addresses incoming freshmen on the opening night of Comet Camp.
“One of the main points of Comet Camp is to get freshmen involved in a community before classes begin, so when they’re walking around campus, they see faces they know – friends,” said senior Cayman Nava, a computer science major and three-time OTM. “You need study partners, you need places to hang out, you need companionship, and this is a great place to make those connections. It’s a hard transition from high school to college, and this experience helps a lot.”
UT Dallas began offering Comet Camp in 1993 as a way for students to make connections with one another and the University, according to Cynthia Jenkins, assistant vice president for Student Affairs.
“It’s a transformational experience,” Jenkins said. “There are definitely learning objectives: leadership development and team building. Campers encourage one another, but there’s fun and camaraderie, too. There’s always a mix of shy and outgoing, local students and those from other parts of Texas or the U.S., but all of them have something in common: They care about the future of UT Dallas.”
This is the first year Comet Camp has been expanded to two sessions.
Held in late June, Session Green focused on leadership and team dynamics. It included a ropes course, skit and talent shows, and presentations about the University’s Emerging Leader Program, Student Government and student volunteerism. Session Orange, set for Aug. 20–22, will focus on University life and feature tournament games and the Comet Camp talent show.
Dan Long, assistant director for new student programs, said that in recent years, there’s been an added bonus: Retention rates for students who attend Comet Camp are high—about 92 percent.
“We think the numbers are significant—clearly students at camp are making connections, either through their OTM or new friends, who they can turn to during that first year away from home. And that makes them want to stay at UT Dallas.”
Students are notified about Comet Camp via postcard once they’re admitted to the University. They also learn about it through their individual orientation sessions.
Matt Chambers, a mechanical engineering major from Garland, Texas, who attended Session Green, said the experience exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve learned so much,” Chambers said. “The people I’ve met have been spectacular, and outside of that, I’ve enjoyed learning about the spirit and traditions of UT Dallas — things I never knew existed until now.”
Jenkins said Chambers’ reaction isn’t uncommon.
“Students often come to camp not knowing anyone, maybe a bit hesitant or shy, but through the course of the experience, they change and leave with friends, confidence and Comet spirit.”
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