For the second time, new students to ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) traveled to the Retreat at Tontozona for Camp SESE Sept. 7-9 as part of the school’s growing effort to build an open network among new students and upperclassmen and faculty.
The Retreat at Tontozona, formerly known as Camp Tontozona, is located in the Tonto National forest near Payson, Ariz. Camp SESE became part of the Exploring SESE (SES 191) course this year that new students are required to take. The camp included a schedule of events designed to be fun and informative and to begin establishing connections between the 50 campers and 28 mentors and faculty who accompanied them.
Arjun Heimsath, SESE professor and this year’s camp director, said that the opportunity Camp SESE offers the students cannot be replaced by classroom learning.
“It’s all about engagement of the students. Camp SESE broadens horizons by getting people off of campus and into a real environment,” Heimsath said. “Students have fun and realize that we love what we do.”
Staying 5,600 feet above sea level under towering Ponderosa Pines, the campers explored SESE’s three main areas of research – geology, engineering and astronomy / astrophysics – through a variety of team-building activities.
Campers went on hikes to learn about geological features and the environment, practiced orienteering skills through a scavenger hunt, viewed the night sky and constellations, and interacted with rovers and remote-controlled helicopters.
Benjamin Stinnett, a systems design sophomore and camp mentor, was a camper last year and said he decided to come back as a mentor because of the positive way his own camp mentors impacted his experience with SESE.
“The most important thing about camp is the ability to make connections with leaders of student organizations and researchers,” Stinnett said. “I want to be the catalyst.”
Stinnett added that as a first-semester sophomore he now has a research position and is president of the ASU Robotics Club, opportunities that would not have come up without Camp SESE.
Another mentor, Andrew Bochko, is a geology sophomore who designed the camp’s t-shirts.
“Without Camp SESE, students are not put into an environment where they can meet people with the same major and have fun,” Bochko said, adding that his own mentors and peers are people whom he is still good friends with.
Chloe Antilla, a freshman earth and environmental studies major, was a camper this year. She said that being able to talk with professors and to see them outside of the classroom in the field gave her an appreciation for what they do.
“They care about what we learn, and when we asked questions they would get excited,” she said. “Their passion reinforces what I want to do.”
The experience for the campers, mentors and faculty was rewarding, Heimsath said.
“It’s fundamental to build a community. Nothing is more important than giving new students a sense of SESE, their peers, mentors and face time with faculty,” Heimsath said. “Many of the potential barriers to their academic career are dramatically lowered.”