Camping for College

UA students who volunteer with Camp Wildcat take middle school students hiking and camping various times throughout the year to learn about college and careers.
April 30, 2008
Extra Info: 

Learn more about Camp Wildcat

Casey Edwards, Ashlee Jones and Andrew Leonard are Camp Wildcat volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)
Casey Edwards, Ashlee Jones and Andrew Leonard are Camp Wildcat volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)
Middle school-age students have been participating in Camp Wildcat since 1965 to learn what it means to be a college students and also what type of career options exist. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)
Middle school-age students have been participating in Camp Wildcat since 1965 to learn what it means to be a college students and also what type of career options exist. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)
Jen Dang, a UA psychology major, ties bracelets on a camper's wrist.(Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)
Jen Dang, a UA psychology major, ties bracelets on a camper's wrist.(Photo courtesy of Kristen Petersen)

Camp Wildcat’s college-going message to disadvantaged youth is both implicit and explicit.

The student-run nonprofit organization takes middle school-aged youth camping and hiking nearly 10 times each year to learn about trust, self-confidence, unity and also about what it means to be a college student, often without a direct lesson on the topic, said Casey Edwards, co-director of the camp, which is recognized by The University of Arizona.

Camp Wildcat invites children and teenagers who are low-income or disabled to participate in its camps, which are generally held during the academic year. The group also hosts a summer camp to the Grand Canyon, which will be held in June this year.

“A lot of us grew up understanding that the next logical step after high school is college, but a lot of the children don’t have that influence,” said Garrett Hoxie, a UA graduating senior who chairs the organization’s board. “But we try to let them see that college is something important to consider.”

Some youth aren’t aware of how college works and don’t know what a major is, he said. Others have questions about scholarships and the lives of college students.

“It’s really eye-opening for them,” said Hoxie, a double major in computer science and Spanish. He has gone on nearly three dozen camps since he arrived at the UA.

It is by the work of more than 100 volunteers that Camp Wildcat is able to offer the camps – weekend-long and weeklong – and other activities at no cost to the participants.

“It’s a really great club and a life-changing experience, not only for the children, but for all of us as college students,” Hoxie said. “It’s giving us great leadership experience and experience working as a team on a large-scale project.”

Students come from a wide range of UA programs, including computer science, law, education, nursing, engineering and humanities, she said. 

“I’m always surprised at the range of people we attract,” Edwards said.

Besides student volunteers, donor dollars are crucial to the organization. Most recently, during the organization’s 12th annual benefit auction in April, the UA students raised about $6,000 – twice what was raised last year.

The first camp was introduced in 1965, but the camps themselves are ever-changing, Edwards said. “We try to change things every camp so it never feels like the same” thing.

“When we structure arts and crafts or science programs, depending on the rotation, we show the kids the things they can do in college,” said Edwards, a UA international studies junior and the incoming president of Camp Wildcat. This will be her fourth year volunteering with the organization.

The camp recruits from schools where more than 40 percent of the student population qualifies for state-sponsored lunch, Edwards said.

“During camp, they’re learning skills,” she said. “In everything we do, we try to promote college and general success as an attainable goal.”

A detective and spy theme was incorporated into the most recent camp, which was held over a three-day at the end of April. Organizers even invited a Phoenix Police Department officer to speak about how attending college can lead toward a career as a detective.

“The kids absolutely loved the whole theme,” said Andrew Friedman, a UA systems engineering senior. “A lot of it is about having a good time and trying to promote the general feeling of community among students.”

On the school bus ride up to the camp, the camp leaders told the young participants that they would meet 60 other detectives once at the site. But the site was empty when they arrived. The youth didn’t know that they would have to earn stars over the course of the camp to be promoted up to detective status.

“Throughout the weekend, they were trying to solve the mystery,” said Friedman, who also served as a cook during the camp. “Everywhere there was a good excuse to use detective lingo, and it turned out to be really fun. This was the first camp I experienced where the group achieved something together.”

And when it comes to learning about college and careers, Friedman said there is a more engaging way than speaking with them at their schools or inviting them to the University. 

He said "you can let them hang out with a bunch of college students for the weekend where they can ask questions, get answers and have a good time.”