Editor's Note: Piedad worked as an instructor for the UT Project on Conflict Resolution this summer.
They come like gaggles of geese next to the herd of incoming freshmen over the summer season. With matching shirts or uniforms, groups of younger students can often be seen and heard trekking across campus on the way to workshops and activities. It’s typical for UT facilities to host all kinds of summer camps, helping elementary- to high school-aged students explore their interests away from home. Whether it’s for a few days or a few weeks, on a range of subjects from sports to screenwriting, these experiences are meaningful in helping develop the skills important to these students and exhibit the expertise of our students, staff and faculty.
A warning to some skeptics: it’s not just a recruiting method. Summer camps on campus provide insight into life at UT, and they’re essential to keeping the economy around the University alive during the summer. Austin businesses have much to gain, especially in the off-season.
Kathryn Parke knows that as well as anyone else. After managing the day-to-day operations of private women’s dormitory for over two decades, Parke, administrative director of the Hardin House, has learned how to keep her business thriving even when students are away for the summer.
Previously, the Summer Freshman Admissions program offered incoming freshmen the chance to enroll in courses for the summer session, prior to official admittance into the University. When UT changed its policy in 2009, private dormitories offering summer leases lost their clientele.
“All of a sudden, we didn’t have residents over the summer,” Parke said. “Obviously, for me to keep staff, we developed some summer projects.”
Opening to accommodate guests for graduation each May, Parke transforms one of the six Hardin House buildings into a bed & breakfast. The other buildings then house ladies during freshman orientation sessions in June and July.
The biggest project, however, is the camps.
“Our summer is so varied,” Parke said. “We have reached out to people over the years and now I’ve got some pretty standard returnees that we love.”
This summer, the Hardin House will be a temporary home for cheerleaders, softball players, church groups, and dependents of those deployed in the Navy, as well as a host of international students renting short-term leases. Along with keeping a clean house, Parke says her goal is to keep as much of her staff employed as possible.
“It’s a great group, a real team effort, and they all know how important summers are,” Parke said. “We find it refreshing to see these new faces and see all this wonderment in their eyes when they walk in, because they’re walking into a college dorm and they’re at UT, which is so incredible.”
On campus, the Student Activity Center is on the front lines of University hospitality, for students and visitors alike. Located in the center of campus with a ballroom, auditorium, food court and lots of open seating, the SAC is often the spot for summer camps to frequent. Allyson LaFrance, an event host for the SAC, says the building’s staff is committed to cultivating a “great” environment at all times.
“It’s kind of like when you have guests in your house, you want to make everything perfect and have them feel welcome,” LaFrance said. “At least here at the SAC, that’s what we try to do because we have so many people coming in and out.”
LaFrance is also a student ambassador for the admissions office, working with prospective students and fielding questions about UT Austin.
“From that perspective, too — just try to get them to feel welcome and see that this is an amazing place to go to school,” LaFrance said. “It’s usually their first time on campus, so you want them to feel like this could be their home, that this is a place where they’re invited.”
Think of the first time you were introduced to UT. Unless there’s a legacy in the family, chances are that a school trip, competition or summer camp brought you to campus first. The best impressions are often made at the beginning. Whether these kids end up ‘going to Texas’ or not, it’s important for us to be open and agreeable to their presence on campus because the best (and worst) PR for a University are its students and alumni.
Recent business graduate Steven Fulbright returned to campus this summer for a few evenings and volunteered to share his talent with a group of impressionable high school students.
“They get to broaden their horizons,” Fulbright said. “There’s just a lot of benefits that come from visiting a college campus. Everything from just people watching, to trying some of the things college campuses offer.”
Representing Longhorn Salsa, Fulbright worked with campers from the UT Project on Conflict Resolution’s summer symposium, teaching the basics of ballroom dance to high school students interested in negotiation and global ethics.
“They got a lot of energy, they really seem to be into it,” Fulbright said. “They paid attention and tried to pick it up. I think it’s always great to have an attentive audience when you’re trying to teach them something.”
Fulbright also took part in an undergraduate panel for the symposium, responding to questions about college life along the lines of “How did you decide your major?” and “What are the best and worst parts about UT?”
For me, the best parts about UT include our campus, our resources, and our community. Sharing those qualities with guests — especially the next generation — are important to what keeps the legacy active. A critique that can be made about UT campus culture is that our individualism isn’t conducive to convincing visitors and prospective students that we care enough about the people living, working and studying on campus. Go out there and show them something different. Next time you see a group of younger students, wave hello and you’ll likely get a smile back.
Piedad is a journalism junior from San Antonio.