Engineering camp provides jumpstart for first-year students

First year engineering students working on project at MADE Camp

SUMMARY: JMU Engineering hosts Re:MADE Camp to help acclimate first-year students to college life and the rigor of the program.

By Caleb Ayers

Adjusting to college life can feel overwhelming. Everything is brand new—the people, the food, the geography, the living quarters. First-year college students face many challenges with newfound independence and countless transitions. Specifically, the academic jump from high school to college can cause many to stumble before ultimately finding their feet. For students in Engineering, early stumbles can be harder to recover from, often leading to early exits. 

To aid first-year engineering students in their acclimation to college life and the rigor of the Engineering program, JMU Engineering hosts a pre-orientation program called Re:MADE Camp. Led by faculty, staff, and upper-level students, this camp gives incoming freshmen a glimpse of what it means to be a Madison Engineer by allowing them to jumpstart their academic success before ever entering a classroom.

Now in its second year, Re:MADE Camp took place August 19th-21st at Camp Horizons, where students built relationships as they participated in workshops, tackled small projects, and design challenges. While faculty envisioned and designed the camp, the upperclassmen actually led and conducted most of the activities. 

This unique camp was intentionally designed so that every aspect emphasized curiosity, connection, and creating value. These mindsets are foundational to modern engineering and are derived from JMU’s partnership with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), a collaboration of nearly 40 of the nation’s best engineering programs. Mini-design challenges encouraged students to think about real-world problems and inspired creative ways to solve them. Group activities were balanced by times of reflection to consider personal identity and skills, and how those two things can -- and should -- relate to their professional development.

Re:MADE Camp emphasizes the importance of making connections. Not only do first-year students get to meet each other, but they also connect with upperclassmen, faculty, and staff. Free time was interspersed throughout the two days so that everyone could enjoy the camp’s amenities—such as a lake, farm animals, and hiking trails. Community meals, nightly bonfires and discussions also provided time for everyone to develop new friendships.

Two male engineering students standing side by side

“I am far more prepared to enter James Madison's engineering program not only because I got a taste of the work I will be tasked with in the coming year but also because of the relationships I was able to build on the retreat,” said Johnna Verry, a first-year student. “I truly believe though that getting to know all the incoming freshman, upperclassmen and professors on a deeper level has better positioned me to tackle the daunting field of engineering because I now know I am not in it alone.”

Before heading back to campus, small groups of students worked on practical opportunities to create value for Camp Horizons. For the project, which was called the “Camp Re-Design Sprint,” students brainstormed ideas to improve Camp Horizons in one of three areas: the dining facility, staff accommodation, or the on-site farm. The groups shared their proposals with the Camp Horizons staff, who provided feedback and selected the ideas that offered the most potential for implementation.

For these first-year students, Re:MADE Camp served as a low-pressure introduction to the rigors and joys of engineering. It also laid the framework for the first-year curriculum, where students think about real problems and innovate to create solutions, which they display at the Madison Engineering xChange. “From the Re:MADE Camp, I was able to learn firsthand how my professors expect me to think about problems, view a wide variety of possible solutions, and how to go about solving such tasks,” said Ryan Motta, a first-year student.

While the camp is designed to prepare students for the engineering program, its real purpose is to provide a glimpse of the collaborative, multidisciplinary nature of real-world engineering. “My biggest take away from Re:MADE camp was how essential relationship building is in the field of engineering,” says Johnna Verry. “While many engineers may choose to focus on a concentration such as electrical engineering, they will rarely only work with one discipline. Almost every project in engineering is a collaboration.”

Kurt Paterson, Head of the Engineering Department, is excited about the early results of Re:MADE Camp and how it has already improved the program. “Our engineering orientation at Re:MADE Camp is the first step in our students doing the important work of understanding themselves, each other, possibilities that engineering offers, and the responsibilities that engineering requires,” says Paterson. “Our observations suggest our orientation is beginning to make a powerful difference for our students, our program, and the many people they can benefit as engineering students."

First year engineering students 2018

Published: Friday, September 28, 2018

Last Updated: Friday, September 28, 2018

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