Summer camps can leave a lasting impression on campers, and memories made with camp counselors can last a lifetime. That’s why OU students Gaby Rueda and Melanie Michaud, who both attended camps offered by OU’s Precollegiate Programs as high school students, returned to camp this summer to work as counselors at and .
Rueda, a biology and pre-med junior, attended CLIMB Academy four years ago as a Dove Science Academy student. The camp, a science-based experience for high school juniors and seniors, reinforced her decision to study medicine. She has fond memories of attending camp, and has stayed in touch with fellow campers even though they attend different universities.
“CLIMB Academy was my first summer camp ever. It taught me how to interact in new situations. And getting that lab coat we get was super cool. I still have it,” Rueda said. “That experience also opened up my mind to the idea of research. That’s something I can do even after I have a career as a doctor.”
Rueda decided to take a summer job with Mini College, a day camp for children in first through sixth grade, to find out if she enjoyed children enough to become a pediatrician. She said working at Mini College began as a bit of a challenge due to language barriers and not always knowing how to soothe an upset camper. She has, however, been able to draw from her experience as a camper to create a better experience for the kids she’s working with.
“They’re like little sponges. You become really invested in their lives, and I think that’s what it takes to be a good camp counselor. I feel like that’s such a big experience.”
Although she’s still unsure about a future in pediatrics, she’s grown attached to the kids over the summer.
“They’re like little sponges,” she said. “You become really invested in their lives, and I think that’s what it takes to be a good camp counselor. I feel like that’s such a big experience.”
Michaud, an environmental sustainability sophomore who plans to join the Peace Corps, attended the Exxon Mobile Bernard Harris Summer Academy Science Camp in 2013. She chose to work at Mini College and CLIMB Academy this summer in order to serve as a mentor for students.
“When I decided to apply for the job, I was more interested in working with high school kids. I was interested in being kind of a mentor figure for the high schoolers,” Michaud said. “I felt like I could offer advice about college applications, and I wanted to be able to help give some insight into college life to these kids.”
She said she’s been able to use her own experiences as a camper to help shy kids become acclimated and engaged in camp activities.
“One thing I learned as a camper is that it can be intimidating and daunting to make friends with a bunch of strangers. Also, ice breaker games can be really nerve-wracking for shy people,” said Michaud. “These experiences have helped me as a counselor in that I’m more mindful and aware of situations that might be particularly challenging for some of the shyer kids.”
The two also learned there are some situations that no amount of experience or planning can prepare you for.
“One particularly funny thing that happened was with one of the first-grade girls. She stuck a crayon up her nose, and she kept trying to tell us that there was a crayon in her nose,” Michaud said. “It was so far up there that we didn’t see it.”
After confirming that there was, indeed, a crayon lost in the child’s nose, parents were called and the crayon was retrieved during a visit to the doctor.
“The next day, the girl came back wearing a shirt that said, ‘don’t go cray-cray on me,’” Michaud said. “That was definitely one of the funnier memories I’ve made with the kids.”
In addition to teaching new things to the campers, whether it be learning about what foods carnivorous plants prefer or how to run a lemonade stand, Rueda and Michaud are also learning things about themselves that they’ll use throughout the rest of their lives.
“I think my time as a counselor will help me in dealing with stressful and fast-paced situations. I’ve definitely learned how to be calmer and less reactionary,” Michaud said. “I think these skills will help me in the future when it comes to working with my classmates and in my future career working with clients.”
“They’ve taught me patience, and that’s really helped me in other areas of my life, especially in my other job as a store manager,” Rueda said. “I’m really going to miss it when it ends.”
For more information on activities and camps like Mini College and CLIMB Academy, visit the Precollegiate Programs website.