Orediggers for life
In the spring of their senior year of high school, many students make one of the biggest decisions of their lives and commit to a university to pursue an undergraduate education and kick off the next chapter in their education. When a student commits to Mines, they become an Oredigger for life. But until they set foot on campus and nervously—or excitedly—move into their residence hall and say goodbye to their families for a few months, many students don’t understand what being an Oredigger means.
But Mines and its alumni hope to change that. Last year, Mines launched Oredigger Camp, a 2½-day event where incoming freshmen first learn what it means to be a Mines student and are welcomed into an exclusive community of engineers and scientists. Through team-building activities, self-reflection exercises and countless fun events, new students learn the value of their Oredigger pride that they are able to carry with them from the start of their first semester through their next several years at Mines.
However, this year’s camp was slightly different. Recognizing that the Oredigger community was often split into two groups—current students and alumni—the alumni association proposed to have more involvement in the undergraduate experience. After all, students don’t stop being Orediggers when they graduate, but instead, as they walk across the stage and flip their tassels from the right side of their cap to the left, join an extension of the community they were a part of as an undergraduate. The alumni association wanted to integrate the student and alumni communities right from the beginning and started by introducing themselves to the Class of 2022 at Oredigger Camp.
A couple of alumni met new students at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, ready to spark an affinity for the place that was so influential in the development of their adult lives and alleviate any anxieties new students might have when starting this new journey.
“As the executive director of the alumni association, I felt it was important to observe, participate and see where alumni might make an impact on these newly arriving Orediggers,” said Damian Friend ’75. “I came away with the opinion that alumni presence is critical at Oredigger Camp as a means of introducing new students to alumni culture and to have the visibility and participation that indicates Oredigger affinity for Mines.”
Friend, along with Stu Bennett ’66, President Paul C. Johnson and several members of the Mines administration, joined the new freshmen in pickup games of gaga ball—a variation of dodgeball—and nine square and hiked through Rocky Mountain National Park. Friend even judged the tinker toy competition and awarded a prize to each member of the winning teams. Alumni got to know the students and make them feel at home in their new community while offering advice on how to navigate their first year as an undergraduate.
“Watching them move from a ‘deer in the headlights’ on the first day to building friendships and shedding stereotypes and expectations was interesting and fun,” Bennett said. “They are open, engaging, curious and, if cultivated and allowed to bloom, are definitely the potential leaders of tomorrow.”
Friend said he noticed a change in the students at the camp, gaining confidence and newfound leadership skills, even in the short time between when they first stepped off the bus at the camp and
when they left.
“By the time they departed their camps, they had the camaraderie and Oredigger spirit that is great to see in the student body and future graduates,” Friend said. “They are as smart as past Oredigger classes and work well together.”
And while Oredigger Camp was a special event for new students, it was equally impactful on the alumni who joined them.
“I can think of no better or more valuable way to share time and talent and love of this place that—for many of us—has provided the opportunity to live and contribute in ways the rest of the world can only imagine and wish for,” Bennett said.
Yet alumni involvement in the development of Mines’ undergraduates isn’t limited to Oredigger Camp. In fact, many alumni returned to campus for Fall Kickoff—the week before the semester starts—to help with and participate in campus activities essential to welcoming the newest group of Orediggers.
Alumni were spotted weighing students’ rocks before the M Climb to make sure rocks less than 10 pounds didn’t make it up Mt. Zion. Some alumni even made the climb themselves, walking alongside new students’ family members or simply making the trek because they missed the tradition when they were a student.
Alumni will also have a larger presence on campus throughout the school year, mentoring students through their undergraduate experience, giving guest lectures and volunteering at signature events. No matter where they might be found, alumni are key in ensuring the success of their fellow Orediggers, both in their studies and future careers. But most of all, they are essential to supporting the Mines culture and making sure all are welcomed into the Mines family.
“The alumni body are the connectors to that tradition and culture,” Bennett said. “But that culture, the M that watches over campus, the gold dome of Guggenheim and the experiences, knowledge and wisdom of the alumni population will endure.”