In spite of changes brought on by COVID-19, the camp for incoming students provided opportunities to connect with other Red Raiders, experience traditions and learn more about the university.
On Monday (Aug. 24), Texas Tech University welcomed students to campus for the fall 2020 semester. But hundreds of incoming students were able to get their first taste of Raiderland before the first day of class even began, thanks to Red Raider Camp (RRC).
The camp is typically a three-day event held in Brownwood each summer. Led by Transition & Engagement staff and current students who serve as camp counselors, RRC prepares first-year and transfer students for success by providing opportunities to connect with other Red Raiders and learn more about the university.
"Red Raider Camp is where tradition comes alive," said Jess Sanchez, program manager of first-year and engagement programs. "This is where we bring in our new Red Raiders and help them assimilate to Texas Tech by teaching them about the history and traditions and allowing them to make connections."
Keeping students and employees safe and healthy during camp is always a top priority. This year, the RRC team knew they would have to implement even more measures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After the closure of the Texas Tech campus in March, staff began working on a plan to give incoming students as much of the RRC experience as possible without risking the well-being of everyone involved.
The result of that work is RRC-LBK, a version of RRC that brought this year's campers to Lubbock instead of Brownwood and gave them the unique opportunity to explore the Texas Tech campus as part of the RRC experience.
"We usually do a three-day, two-night experience," Sanchez said. "This year, we had to adapt and move the camp to Lubbock and into a one-day experience. It ended up being really cool. My hope is that, at the end of the day, students got a better idea of what this fall at Texas Tech is going to be like."
In addition to providing information to campers about the university, RRC gives students a jump-start on connecting with their peers.
"We have counselors and past campers who say that what they got out of camp was their future roommate or someone they're able to study with or their best friend," Sanchez said. "We're just trying to find them a community within Red Raider Camp so they have a friendly face they know before those first days of classes. Our students get that initial social stimulation taken care of at camp, and they're able to do really well once their courses begin."
Despite the changes, campers said RRC-LBK provided them with an exciting and high-energy way to learn about Texas Tech.
"I gained so much more than I could have imagined from camp," said Zoe Harris, a human sciences major from Goree. "I made friends, learned the campus and learned a lot of the history and traditions of Texas Tech. I now have a better understanding of the college I'll be attending the next four years, and a whole lot of fun memories. RRC is the biggest advantage you could give yourself."
Because of COVID-19, having a face-to-face experience meant changing the way campers, staff and counselors interacted with each other in order to reduce the risk of illness transmission.
"Before, we would play some games where we would encourage students to break those touch barriers and do high fives and handshakes, stuff like that," Sanchez said. "This year, we adapted those games early on. Basically, any game or ice breaker we were able to do in a circle, we could socially distance and continue to do it."
At the beginning of each session, staff explained to students the rules they would need to follow in order to participate in camp. That included wearing masks at all times and maintaining appropriate distance from other campers and staff. The only time masks were removed was when a camper needed a drink of water and only after they had distanced themselves even further from others by exiting the building or stepping away from the group when outside.
"Luckily, our students were pretty receptive," Sanchez said. "They're adapting to a lot more than just the changes to camp, and they did an excellent job. Looking back at our surveys, one of our questions asked if the COVID-19 guidelines for camp were clearly explained, and every student said they had a complete understanding. It was enlightening and also encouraging, because it shows us their willingness to be able to do this the rest of the semester."
Camping on campus
Sanchez said though the staff loves the usual camp location in Brownwood, having RRC at Texas Tech came with some advantages, like reliable Wi-Fi and the ability to become acquainted with the campus. RRC-LBK campers spent a good chunk of their time in and around the Media & Communication building.
"We used their cell phones for things like the campus scavenger hunt," Sanchez said. "They were able to take pictures, tag our Instagram and share their experience. We used games on the Kahoot! app to talk about their campus resources. In the classrooms, we did PowerPoint presentations that we were able to share via Zoom."
The technological adaptations have helped camp staff re-think different aspects of the experience. Shortening the camp to one day and completing multiple single-day sessions over two weeks also gave staff ideas on how to be more intentional with programming.
"In Brownwood, our students are able to spread this programming out," Sanchez said. "Here, we put the necessary components into one day to give them the experience they needed. We tried to make it as close as possible and kept key elements that we do have in Brownwood here at Texas Tech. We're so proud we were able to do that. We're grateful that we were able to have an event face-to-face on campus and do it in this way."
Getting to know Raiderland
In addition to the socially distanced group discussions and activities, counselors led campers in excursions around campus as part of a Texas Tech scavenger hunt, allowing students to experience Raiderland in an enjoyable and informative way. Students were able to figure out where they would attend classes and routes to get there and find areas of campus that were significant to university history and traditions.
"My favorite part of RRC was the scavenger hunt, hands down," Harris said. "The competitive aspect was exciting, but I learned my way around campus while doing it. The idea was absolutely genius! Being on campus before classes started gave me a huge advantage for this year."
The excursions around campus also included a trip to the Robert H. Ewalt Student Recreation Center, where campers became familiar with the center's equipment and facilities and the fitness classes offered to students.
"We typically do 'Night at the Rec' as part of Red Raider Orientation (RRO)," Sanchez said. "Since RRO was online this year, we continued to use that component for Red Raider Camp instead, and our students really loved it."
Students attended a yoga class led by Kami White-Waden, associate director of fitness and wellness, while Jared McCauley, associate director of external relations and student success, provided information about intramural sports and employment opportunities.
"They were able to take some shots with 'around the world' basketball, where they
able to use their own basketball," Sanchez said. "They played corn hole with another person. They also tried out pickleball, a new activity many students had never heard of.
"All of those were opportunities where we were able to follow the social distancing guidelines or the COVID-19 guidelines of the Rec Center while also giving them a chance to break out of the groups they'd hung out with all day in the classroom. They were able to get to know other students and engage in a little bit of friendly competition with them."
"Getting to the Bell Circle at Will Rogers at the end of the day, it was just really powerful and electric," Sanchez said. "During the last three camps, we had the Masked Rider come visit us. We did not know that was going to happen. She rolled up in her trailer, got out and took pictures with the campers. One of our campers posted about it and said, 'I literally almost cried when I saw the Masked Rider at Red Raider Camp.' It was just awesome."
Feedback and looking forward
Though the RRC-LBK experience was different from previous years in so many ways, Sanchez said staff members and counselors were successful in delivering an experience that still allowed students to make connections while learning Texas Tech history and traditions, becoming acquainted with the campus and learning about services and resources available to them.
"We introduced a history and traditions bingo," Sanchez said, "It was a really informational activity and helped them throughout the rest of the day, especially once we got to the campus scavenger hunt and they were looking for some of those history and traditions we'd learned about previously. It is an activity we want to continue to take into Red Raider Camp in future years."
The activity was informative even for some of the student counselors.
"I thought I knew all the history and traditions of Texas Tech," said Nigel Hilton, a senior camp counselor and media and communication major. "It proved me wrong."
Students said the small, group-discussion sessions with counselors like Hilton were the most helpful part of camp.
"They liked just being able to talk with their counselor and ask questions about what it's like being a Red Raider," Sanchez said. "I tried my best to pair our counselors' majors with the students' majors so they could get the inside knowledge and make those connections. Some meaningful connections were really made."
Making those connections meant first helping the campers get comfortable enough to share with other members of their group, Hilton said.
"One thing I tried to do is get them to realize we were all here for a good time," he said. "We are getting the students engaged with the campus, getting them more familiar and building friendships they'll continue throughout the rest of their time here. I wanted them to feel free to ask me whatever."
He also encouraged future Red Raiders to sign up for camp before their first semester at Texas Tech.
"Don't sleep on camp," Hilton said. "It can be one of the key highlights of your college career at Texas Tech. This is a great way to meet new people."
Sanchez attributes the success of RRC-LBK to the staff and students like Hilton who led the campers each day, then stayed after each session to help disinfect classrooms.
"They were so great," Sanchez said. "They would say, 'We just want to do camp. Just tell us what we need to do.' They had that attitude throughout the entire camp. They just accepted the changes and rolled with it. They are the reason this program was able to happen and be so successful, because if they hadn't been there making connections, the students wouldn't have had as good of a time. I'm super proud of them. They worked really hard, and they had a great attitude."
For Harris, attending RRC-LBK cemented her decision to attend Texas Tech this fall.
"I went into RRC wanting to go home; I was homesick and dreading the day," Harris said. "However, before lunch even rolled around, I was thrilled to be there. Camp showed me that not only is Texas Tech an amazing place for me academically, but it also is a great place for me socially. The experience has set me up for an amazing freshman year, and I have no doubt that I'm exactly where I am supposed to be."
Sanchez said seeing the students like Harris leave camp ready for life on campus is her favorite part.
"You see them in the beginning, when they're so timid and showing up to check-in," Sanchez said. "They just say their name really quietly. But then you see these nervous, timid students turn into someone who is so excited about the friendships they've made and the experiences they got to have. I really think that that shift from the beginning to the end is where a Red Raider is made."