Putting the “Camp” in Campus

Rhodes Offers Summer Learning Opportunities and Fun

Step foot onto the Rhodes campus this summer and you may stumble upon high school students in the Rhodes Writing Institute eating up a “brain candy” lecture on Homer Simpson’s economic perspective on incentives. Or you may find local middle and high school girls creating their own mobile phone apps at Camp Codette. Hop over to Buckman Hall, and you can look in on the new Mock Trial Academy, where students learn about the constitutional foundations of the legal system. If all of that academic rigor has you needing a workout, stop by the Bryan Campus Life Center and Rhodes’ outdoor playing fields, and you’ll find a flurry of athletic camps. Let’s just say Rhodes puts the “camp” in campus every summer for hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students.

Rhodes Summer Writing Institute

The Rhodes Summer Writing Institute started as the Young Scholars and Writers Camp in 1978, and it’s since become a model for how to host secondary students on Rhodes’ campus. This summer marks Professor Rebecca Finlayson’s 17th year leading the program, which attracts students from all over the United States.

“At the Writing Institute, students get a taste of what college is like, both socially and academically,” Finlayson says.

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Through class discussions and peer workshops, the professors at the institute help guide students in understanding others′ writing and in creating their own writing—expressing ideas, finding a voice, discovering a style, building a structure, and developing a theme or position.

Not only do students hone their writing and analytical skills at the institute, but they also learn a bit about how to navigate the college application process. At the end of the Summer Writing Institute, students receive a grade for their work and class participation, earn two college credits (which are transferable to any college or university), and will have completed a portfolio of college-level writing.

Novelist and Memphian Courtney Miller Santos teaches at the institute each summer.

“In my experience the biggest advantage to attendees is that at the beginning of the class, they are still thinking like high school students,” she says, “but by the end of the course, they understand what it means to consider their own ideas instead of what ideas will impress their teacher or their fellow students. To see these students become thinkers and learners is one of the best benefits of the institute.”

Rhodes Professor Marshall Boswell, also a novelist, agrees: "One of the things I love most about teaching in the Writing Institute is watching a community develop in the classroom. And it is a community built on a shared love of learning. After the first day or so, the students begin to understand that, at the Institute, it is COOL to be smart, engaged, eager to learn, and basically a nerd. And once that message has been absorbed, they rise to the challenge of thinking and writing at their highest level."

Mock Trial Academy

When Anna Smith ’02, assistant professor and mock trial director, started working to develop Rhodes’s first-ever Mock Trial Academy—in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Rhodes’s award-winning mock trial program—she reached out to Professor Finlayson. “The Summer Writing Institute has really set an amazing precedent,” says Smith. “Professor Finlayson has been a terrific resource for how we can develop something similar for students interested in mock trial.”

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The Mock Trial Academy is a week-long, intensive training camp for high school students, designed to develop their ability to effectively present an argument and develop an understanding of constitutional laws related to the judicial system. The mock trial courses are taught by Rhodes faculty, which gives students a first-hand experience of the demands of college-level courses.

“The experience of working with the great coaches at Rhodes and with students who are currently competing at the national level can really show them how exciting, fun, and rewarding mock trial can be,” says Daniel Elliott ’19, who served as a resident assistant and teaching assistant for the Mock Trial Academy this summer. (Read more about Daniel in our Student Spotlight article."

Like the Summer Writing Institute, students who attend the Mock Trial Academy stay on campus and experience the same daily life as Rhodes students.

“Our mock trial program is such a close-knit unit, and our students develop these amazing relationships with one another that last long after they leave Rhodes,” Smith says. “You see that sense of community in how many of our alums continue to come back to coach and judge mock trial. We want to extend that to a summer experience to give high school students the chance to have that same community with people from all over the country.”

Camp Codette

Indeed, Rhodes students and alumni play a major role in facilitating summer programs. Haley Adams ’15 and Chelsey Thompson ’15 are directing this year’s Camp Codette, a summer coding camp for middle and high school girls.

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“Camp Codette has two big goals,” Adams explains. “The first is to spark interest in computing. The second is to give young women the tools and the confidence to explore that interest.” 

Adams, who will begin pursuing a PhD in computer science this coming fall at Vanderbilt University, was one of the primary directors of last year’s coding camps. Thompson, who received a BS in chemistry, volunteered as a counselor for the inaugural sessions of Rhodes’ coding camp and has performed research on collaboration in virtual reality. She will be attending a masters of computer science program starting in fall.

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Funded largely by a grant from Google’s igniteCS program, Camp Codette attracted more than 70 participants from throughout the city last summer. Camp Codette is building off of its successful first year and is expanding this year to four different sessions: three on computer coding and one on virtual reality. A representative from Google will mentor all undergraduates working with the project.

“At last year’s camp, we had the girls create 3D models like castles and other trinkets, like little Lego robots. The girls had a lot of fun,” says Dr. Betsy Sanders, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, and founder of Camp Codette. “We had a parent showcase at the end of the camp, and I’ve heard back from a lot of the campers’ parents who’ve said that their kids were teaching them how to code.”

Sports Camps Develop Diverse Skills

There is little that’s as exciting as seeing a group of young campers entering the Rat for the first time and discovering unlimited pizza and ice cream. Rhodes offers summer athletic camps for baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, softball, and volleyball. The camps serve youngsters from six to 15 years old, depending on the sport.Image removed.

“Our camps focus on skill development, but we never lose sight of the long-term benefits that athletics provide,” says Rhodes’s men’s basketball coach Mike DeGeorge. “Everyone benefits from being in a setting where they have to work with others and overcome adversity. It is always fun to see campers grow up from year to year and show signs of maturity.”

The camps also provide development opportunities for Rhodes student athletes, who serve as counselors. The camaraderie provides an opportunity for them to build relationships with their teammates and coaches, hone their skills, and help younger players grow.

“Our student athletes are tremendous role models for our campers, who really look up to them,” DeGeorge says. 

Ian Harrison ’18, who will be working as a counselor for the Rhodes basketball camps for his third straight summer, enjoys seeing the growth that campers make over the course of a week. “It’s great to see how campers respond to coaching and see them have so much joy playing basketball.”

All summer activities for pre-college students introduce the participants to the beautiful Rhodes campus and can serve as excellent recruitment tools for future students. The chance to work with Rhodes students, alumni, and faculty proves a bonus for summer campers, who also mingle with college-age students on campus for one of the many opportunities Rhodes provides for them. See our story Summertime . . . and the Livin' Is Busy for more on those programs.

— By Bryan Hearn ’09