New Maroon camp helps students find ‘sense of belonging’ at MSU

Contact: Allison Matthews

New Maroon 2016 campers and counselors enjoy “Family Olympics” at the university’s Club Sports Fields. (Photo by Sarah Dutton)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mayah Emerson didn’t participate in New Maroon Camp at Mississippi State as an incoming freshman, but when she learned how much fun the group was having, she had to get involved. This year, she’s the student director leading approximately 900 new students to find their place at MSU as part of the Bulldog family.

Today [Aug. 8], hundreds are checking into New Maroon Camp to jumpstart their semester. By the time classes start next week, many new friendships and lifelong connections already will be established from an event designed to help incoming students find an almost immediate “sense of belonging” at their university.

Emerson, a junior educational psychology major from Meridian, said that while she didn’t have the benefit of New Maroon Camp as a new student, she quickly realized it was an experience she didn’t want to miss. She became a New Maroon student counselor and “had the time of my life” last year before taking over the director’s role this year.

Students lead, manage and run the camp, Emerson explained, although they do have support from advisers Raymond Brooks, assistant dean of students, and John Blue, assistant director of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center.

Brooks said that each year, some students find the transition from home to college life challenging. Students who find connections with others are much more likely to enjoy college life right from the beginning, he said.

“It’s easy to get homesick, but when you go through this camp for a week of intense time together with encouragement from other students, gain access to MSU administrators, and learn about university history and traditions, you automatically find that sense of belonging and ownership that this is our home. It really sets students up for success,” Brooks said.

Emerson agreed, explaining that the large number of camp participants are divided into family groups of about 180 students, which are further broken into smaller groups of pods (about 25 students) and crews (about a dozen students). Just over 100 students serve as camp staff members, with student counselors providing ongoing support for their assigned campers.

“Loving on them and helping with that freshman year was awesome,” Emerson said. “The goal for our students is to let every new student know that they can do this. College can be overwhelming, but there is no reason you cannot do this. You can be successful at Mississippi State,” she said.

Emerson said the ongoing relationships once camp is over can be just as important as the camp itself.

“I still have students asking me for advice, and they excel. I’m super proud of them – all of my campers,” Emerson said. While the overall goal of attaining long-term success at MSU is in focus, that doesn’t diminish the all-out fun offered by the week’s activities. Emerson said the lip sync battle is one of her favorites, along with Maroon Madness – a race to finish tasks of all kinds, some of which may involve water balloons.

New Maroon Camp runs through Aug. 11, but participants also will serve as volunteers for MVNU2MSU (move-in day) Aug. 12 when campus residence halls officially open for the fall semester.

Additional start-of-the-semester activities for new students also are available through MSU Dawg Days.

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