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RAM CAMP combines service projects and leadership training for freshmen students

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Christina Spohn from Recreational Sports leads a team-building activity at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.
Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

More than 640 Virginia Commonwealth University students spent their final week of summer vacation on campus, where they engaged in community service, team building exercises and leadership trainings.

They were attending RAM CAMP, a weeklong leadership experience that connects incoming freshmen to VCU traditions, campus resources and fellow students. Campers were divided into small groups and participated in various activities led by a VCU student leader.

“We know that when the students feel more connected to campus and others, they tend to do better overall, not just at VCU, but also in the other areas of their life,” said Lisa Cooper, assistant director of residential life for leadership programs and RAM CAMP co-chair. “We work to create this through careful selection of all activities, sessions, presentations, small group time and service opportunities that are facilitated throughout the week.”

RAM CAMP lasts four days. Campers are split into four groups, each led by a student director. Each day featured a morning and afternoon session, and explored different themes.

Incoming freshmen participate in team-building activities at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.
Incoming freshmen participate in team-building activities at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.

“We did a little bit of everything,” said Allie Meagher, a senior in the School of the Arts and RAM CAMP student director. “On the first day, the students heard from several on-campus organizations that would benefit them throughout the year. They [also] participated in team-building activities and icebreakers with their small groups.”

Students spent one of their mornings participating in service projects throughout the Richmond community. They cleaned up local parks, walked dogs at Richmond Animal Care and Control, and volunteered with FeedMore Food Bank. That afternoon, they participated in a diversity session led by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs that focused on identity and how to be a better ally.

Other activities at RAM CAMP included a fun break at G-Force Karts, and a visit to the Wellness Resource Center, where students discussed mindfulness and self-care tools to better their academic and leadership experiences. The students also explored campus and community recreation through the VCU Outdoor Adventure Program, hiking a local trail, biking a four-mile route through Richmond and climbing the rock wall inside Cary Street Gym.

Incoming freshmen participate in team-building activities at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.
Incoming freshmen participate in team-building activities at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.

“One of the most memorable experiences I had at RAM CAMP would have to be the diversity seminar,” said freshman Vitoria Garcia. “It was an enlightening experience to discuss the inclusive environment at VCU. I learned about what our school and the Richmond community has to offer, as well as how to be an active ally for social justice groups. I loved the experiences I had at RAM CAMP and hope to serve as a RAM CAMP leader next year.”

The students learned about other campus resources during presentations from University Academic Advising, the Global Education Office and VCU GLOBE. They also were treated to a “traditions night” social at Altria Theatre, hosted by Rowdy Rams and VCU Athletics and featuring VCU cheerleaders, dancers, athletes, coaches, the VCU pep band, and Rodney the Ram.

Meagher, who attended RAM CAMP as an incoming freshman four years ago, said the week of activities helps students adjust to life on campus.

“I’m an out-of-state student, and I came from a fairly small high school,” said Meagher. “RAM CAMP gave me that small community I needed to get acclimated to VCU. I've always been thankful for what RAM CAMP did for me my freshman year, which is why I've returned to the program every year to help give that experience to other incoming freshmen.”

Passing along that experience is crucial to the development of RAM CAMP. Like Meagher, many returning students apply to become a RAM CAMP leader or student director and serve as a mentor to new students.

“I would recommend any student leader at VCU to consider becoming a RAM CAMP student director,” said Rachel Childs, a senior in the School of Allied Health Professions and RAM CAMP student director.

Childs was one of the program’s first participants when RAM CAMP began in 2013.

“I am so glad that I participated because it taught me how to be a leader among thousands of individuals,” said Childs.

For many students who have gone through RAM CAMP, the term “opportunity” is used frequently as a way to describe what the experience means to them.

“RAM CAMP is such an amazing program that provides a select group of freshmen many opportunities that other freshmen do not have access to,” said Alexis Taylor, a junior in the School of Nursing and RAM CAMP student director. “Freshmen have the chance to experience their first moments of college life with a great support system of leaders and directors to help guide them every step of the way.”

So, what are the new opportunities for students next year?

“That's a secret,” said Cooper. “But I can tell you that we always go big when it comes to RAM CAMP so stayed tuned as we begin to plan for RAM CAMP 2018.”

Incoming freshmen try out the rock climbing wall at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.
Incoming freshmen try out the rock climbing wall at Cary Street Gym during RAM CAMP.