Privateer Camp Builds Student Leaders, Privateer Bonds

Campfires, crawfish, tug-of-war, sailing: Privateer Camp is the perfect introduction for incoming students to the University of New Orleans, especially for those interested in becoming student leaders.

The three-day two-night freshman leadership retreat is designed to help freshmen make new friends before school starts and optimize students’ first-year University experience.

“Privateer Camp was great. It’s our third year that we’ve done it and I just feel like every year it gets better,” said Christy Heaton, associate director for orientation and first-year student success.

Heaton and Dale O’Neill, coordinator of leadership programs in UNO’s Office of Student Involvement and Leadership-Student Affairs, piled into a bus last week with 55 incoming freshmen and another 21 upperclassmen selected through a rigorous application process to be “Krewe Leaders.” The group travelled to Camp Wesley Pines, a retreat center in Gallman, Miss., where they spent the weekend practicing and learning new skills.

Privateer Camp, a joint effort of the University's Office of Admissions and the Division of Student Affairs, is centered around three key principles: diversity, involvement and leadership. Upon arrival, the students are split into small groups called “krewes.”

The weekend includes education sessions on issues including: time management, transitioning from high school to college, how to get involved and how to balance involvement with academics. It also includes tons of fun: icebreaker games, volleyball, tug-of-war and a hard-and-fast introduction to UNO traditions.

“I wish that we could take every single freshman because it helps them bond so much,” said O’Neill. “We teach them campus traditions, like the fight song and who the mascot is, and about Friendship Circle. And they’re just so excited about UNO before they get on campus.”

Friendship Circle, O’Neill said, is a circular area surrounded by benches and plants, located between UNO’s Math and Liberal Arts Buildings.

“The tradition is that the people you meet there will be your lifelong friends,” O’Neill said.

Heaton and O’Neill designed Privateer Camp, as well as the upcoming Privateer Plunge, a six-week orientation to UNO that begins Aug. 16 with Freshman Move-in Day and runs through Sept. 29.

The pair joined forces several years ago, sharing ideas and department funds to ensure that incoming freshmen’s introduction to campus is a positive one. They meet throughout the year to plan the fall fun.

“We’re setting an example for students that collaboration is good and a necessity,” said Heaton. “Being involved isn’t something you do by yourself. You work with other students, other leaders and other organizations.”

Graduates of the first Privateer Camp are now seniors who continue to blaze trails across campus, Heaton said.  The group includes: vice president of student government; president of the Blue Krewe; a student who conceived and created the popular Privateer for a Day recruitment event; a student who started the Privateer Dolls hip-hop dance team -- and still more who serve on UNO’s Leadership Cabinet and play dominant roles in Greek Life.

But while Privateer Camp tends to attract students who plan to be or already see themselves as leaders, the camp also draws some shy students who get “extra and extra time to make friends,” said O’Neill. “There are so many other things going on at UNO,” she said, referring to pressures faced by any college student – and the skills they build and friends they make at Privateer Camp. “They know they have a support system. That’s so reassuring. They’re so happy to be at UNO.”

“They’re involved, they get good grades,” Heaton said. “It’s awesome just to see their UNO spirit.”