The University of Oregon’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), a 35-year-old tradition known fondly by its participants as “nerd camp,” recently faced the possibility of being cancelled permanently due to budget changes in the university’s Youth Enrichment/Talented and Gifted (YETAG) program. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, an email from YETAG administrators informed the SEP community that “the scheduled July 2016 camp [had] been cancelled.”
Loyal SEP participants were devastated.
Within days, a private Facebook group entitled “Keep SEP Alive” was created to give campers, alumni, parents, and former administrators a place to commiserate and discuss what steps could be taken to save the camp. The group grew to 689 members, and many posted on the page about what SEP meant to them. Numerous alumni shared stories of how the camp changed their lives, while others condemned the university for eliminating a program that positively impacted thousands of students.
Lauren Lindstrom, UO Associate Dean of Research and Outreach, said that the decision to discontinue SEP was made for both economic and noneconomic reasons. She explained that the university had been subsidizing the program and could no longer offer that support due to an increased focus on research and programs for current college students.
“This particular residential program… is not the focus of our energy. It just can’t be right now,” Lindstrom said in an interview with The Register-Guard.
The SEP community had no intention of backing down, however. Dozens of alumni sent emails and letters to university administrators, attesting to the merit of the program and pleading that it be kept for the well-being of the students and the benefit of the university. By Jan. 28, discussion around the fate of the camp was already underway at the College of Education.
Then, over two weeks after the cancellation of the camp was first announced, a follow-up email was sent out to the SEP community informing them that “the residential Summer Enrichment Program for grades 6-12 [would] be held at the UO this year in collaboration with Oak Hill School.”
The response to the change was overwhelmingly positive. Most SEP community members were overjoyed to hear that their favorite camp was back on again, and the “Keep SEP Alive” page was flooded with cheerful posts from elated members. Some insiders, however, were much more skeptical.
“We have to consider what [the decision to continue SEP this summer] really means. Will SEP students live at UO dorms and bus to Oak Hill? What kind of ‘college preview’ is this when the UO is over 5 miles away?” Anna Steckel, a former SEP camper, counselor, and administrator, said in a Facebook post.
No information regarding the new format of the camp has been released, and the extent to which SEP will be able to maintain its previous format remains unclear.
“If we are determined to keep SEP as it has been for the past 35 years, we’ll need to keep challenging the University,” Steckel added. “They’ve accepted the Oak Hill partnership to keep us quiet.”