UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

No summer vacation for learning at UND

Camps serve the greater community by sparking imaginations, growing future leaders

Kids at Scrubs Academy
Kamryn Nissen (second from right) has been a UND fan for as long as she can remember. “My first Halloween costume I picked out for myself when I was 3 years old was a UND cheerleader outfit,” Nissen said. “Both my parents and my Grandpa Chuck attended UND, and I’ve always hoped I’d be able to go there one day. Knowing UND has a great Physical Therapy program is great motivation for me to work hard in school now.” Nissen is joined by Scrubs Academy campers (from left) Jon’Tae Cote-Kanning, Kason Litchy and Charlotte Crowston. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

Kamryn Nissen delicately wrapped cotton padding around her patient’s “broken” arm. Next would come the malleable mesh material that would harden into a cast to keep the bones in place for healing.

In a second examination room, Nissen pulled on a pair of rubber gloves before retrieving foreign objects from the intestines of a very sick “dog.” (Turns out the pooch really can jump high enough to reach the candy dish.)

Administering vaccinations. Mixing compounds to fill prescriptions. Watching real lungs inflate and then deflate while connected to a respirator. It was all in a day’s work.

But Nissen is not a doctor or a veterinarian. Nor is she a nurse, a physician’s assistant, a pharmacist or a respiratory therapist — at least not yet.

This summer, the 13-year-old was one of dozens of regional middle schoolers participating in the Center for Rural Health’s Scrubs Academy at the University of North Dakota.

“It was so much fun,” Nissen said. “We learned about all sorts of occupations in the medical field.”

The four-day hands-on camp — now in its 10th year at UND — is just one of the many ways the University continues to expand its reach to serve the region and beyond.

The learning never stops

Troy Noeldner
Troy Noeldner.

Though the flurry of foot traffic along University Avenue may slow to a crawl after spring finals, the learning goes full speed ahead all summer long.

Troy Noeldner, director of UND Housing & Residence Life, knows this firsthand.

“As soon as spring semester is over — actually, even before spring break — we start planning for our summer operations,” Noeldner said. “We never really completely shut down for summer.”

Besides managing about 500 year-round apartment units across campus, those summer operations include some fast shuffling to get the residence halls ready for more than 200 traditional summer school students, as well as short-term stays for undergrad researchers and a number of distance learners who come to campus for short stints of required lab work.

Then, there are the 800-plus students, like Nissen, who stay in the residence halls and feast in the Wilkerson Dining Center while taking part in 20-some different academic and athletic camps and conferences throughout the summer.

“School closes the Friday after finals week, and we have the weekend to get the halls turned around and ready again by Monday,” Noeldner said. “Our building service technicians and all of our support staff work very hard, but we treat the summer camps and conferences as a very important service to the campus and the whole community.”

Some of the camps run a few days to a week, and others such as TRIO Upward Bound — a program that helps prepare high school students to become first-generation college graduates — run as long as six weeks.

“We want to ensure that all our guests have a wonderful experience. The camps give us a chance to showcase UND and give young people a great taste of college life so they’ll hopefully come back when it’s time to make their own college choice. We’re a critical partner in developing that extra exposure to help UND do what it needs to do. We want them to say, ‘This is where I want to be.’ We’re starting to build that affinity for UND.”

Just what the doctor ordered

Kylie Nissen
Kylie Nissen.

And the camps have a proven record of success, says Kylie Nissen, Kamryn Nissen’s mother and program director at the Center for Rural Health within the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She started the Scrubs Academy in 2011 as a spinoff of the similar one-day health care camps taking place in rural communities statewide.

“The impact of the Scrubs Academy has been more profound than we ever expected,” Kylie Nissen said. “We started with 40 students, and it’s grown to a max of 84 because of the high demand.”

Kylie Nissen says students now enrolled in medical school or studying to become occupational or physical therapists often send her emails telling her that their Scrubs Academy experience way back in middle school was what first sparked their interest in their health care professions.

As college students, many former Scrubs Academy graduates come back to volunteer as group leaders at the camp, too.

“That’s why we do this. Hearing those stories makes all the time and effort that goes into these camps so worth it,” Kylie Nissen said. “The hands-on aspects of the camp are what keeps them engaged and excited about learning. You never want a kid to be bored. Our goal is to make them wonder and discover. We want their interest in the health professions to grow while they’re here.”

Leaders and lifelong friends

And at the same time UND’s summer camp students are learning about possible professions and meeting lifelong friends, Noeldner says they’re also developing critical leadership skills.

He pointed to the annual North Dakota American Legion Auxiliary Flickertail Girls State as another example of bright leaders in the making. Since 1950, the popular citizenship program has been hosted by UND.

Girls State participants
Girls State. Photo courtesy of Adelyn Emter.

“Girls State ties in a lot of what UND is trying to do on a regular basis … and that is to help students learn to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Noeldner explained. “Anything we can do to help students think about how they can better serve their larger communities is a positive for both UND and for the people of North Dakota.”

Recent UND Psychology graduate Adelyn Emter agrees. The Dickinson, N.D., native attended Girls State in 2019 and subsequently was elected by her peers to represent her state as a senator at Girls Nation in Washington, D.C.

“The whole experience gave me the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone,” Emter said. “It taught me how to develop better communication and public speaking skills as well as how to navigate healthy conflict and grow my self-confidence.

“At the time, I was about to begin my senior year of high school and start applying to universities across the country, but the positive experience I had at UND during Girls State was a strong factor in my decision to enroll at UND rather than selecting a school in another state.”

Emter said Girls State was a lot of fun, but it also was a pivotal moment in her education. Specifically, she called out Associate Professor of Political Science & Public Administration Dana Harsell as another important influence.

“His lectures informed my interest in politics, criminal justice and public service, leading me to pursue internships with the Dickinson Police Department and the Prosecutor’s Office. Without that educational experience, I likely wouldn’t have considered the importance of a comprehensive liberal arts education when selecting a university.”

Last year, Emter returned to Girls State as a counselor, and this year, she volunteered as the dean of counselors.

“I really believe in the mission of this program and its ability to empower young women as they step into leadership roles,” she said.

After finishing up one of her own leadership roles as apartment community assistant with UND Housing & Residence Life later this month, Emter will pursue her doctorate in General Experimental Psychology at UND this fall.

Building a strong foundation

People realize the strength and value of these summer camps, and they keep coming back.

In fact, Kylie Nissen says she hears both presenters and the parents of Scrubs Academy campers say, “I wish there had been a camp like this when I was their age.”

Girls State participants
Girls State. Photo courtesy of Adelyn Emter.

“It really opens their eyes to so many potential careers in areas that are in need of workers. Health care is something you can start working in when you’re still in high school and stay in until you retire,” she added. “And oftentimes, young people don’t realize they don’t have to wait until they graduate from college to start working in the health care field.

“They can become a nursing assistant. Or if they have an interest in emergency medicine, there are ways they can help out their local volunteer ambulance service. All that experience they gain before they even graduate from high school gives them a leg up in the career they want to pursue.”

So what about 13-year-old Kamryn Nissen?

“Her experience at Scrubs Academy created her absolute love for health care,” her mother said. “Since the very first one she attended, there’s been no doubt in her mind she was going into health care.”

Two years ago, she decided pediatric physical therapy is the field for her. This summer, she is job shadowing a rural pediatric physical therapist. Plus, she’s already seeking volunteer opportunities and asking what high school classes she can take to boost her college application and increase her chances of winning scholarships. (Smart girl.)

And, of course, “her top choice for PT schools is UND!” (Even smarter.)

>> HAVE A QUESTION? If you want to inquire about opportunities to host a camp or conference at UND, you can send an email to housing@UND.edu or call 701.777.4251. You also can learn more by clicking the Summer Housing link at UND Housing & Residence Life.