I think I have lost my creative, narrative mojo at this time of the day and the week, so here are “just the facts.”

RYSAG summer camp 2010

The storyline: Over 50 middle to high school students from the Rochester City School District (RCSD) arrived at SUNY Geneseo on the morning of July 19.  They were greeted with the news that SUNY Geneseo had received a national grant that allowed for two weeks of security training to prepare for the imminent migration of a new population.  For the first week of this two-week overnight academic camp, students would engage in a series of courses that would offer the necessary skills and knowledge to gain more information on the incoming population once security clearance was achieved. On the Monday of the second week, students were told that the Etans would be arriving from their planet Eta located some 20 light years away from Earth.  Not only would big Etan masses be settling in the Rochester area, as well as other areas of the world, some had already been living among us, scouting the location to determine the best cities to suit their needs.

The challenge: As selected peace agent candidates, our students were asked to compile the necessary information and develop the necessary skills to craft a final peaceful integration plan that would merge the incoming Etan community into the existing Rochester population with as little conflict as possible.  The proposal would be presented to a panel of highly esteemed “officials” – one from NASA, another from Homeland Security and a third from the National Grant Office.  Presentations required the following pieces of data:  an introduction to the history of immigration in Rochester, a profile of the Etan people, potential conflicts that could arise with the merging of two communities and each teams’ ideas for strategies to mitigate conflict and promote a peaceful coexistence.

Security training: Students rotated through four core classes – homeland security science lab, natural resources lab, global studies and communication.  In homeland security lab, students learned how to detect gunpowder residue and how to isolate DNA and create personalized DNA necklaces.  They also engaged in chromatography and forensic toxicology.  In natural resources lab, students were instructed in the scarcity of resources like fresh water and how a competition over such resources can lead to conflict and war.  A simulation was created in the classroom that encouraged students to fight over desired resources and then reflect on the reasons behind the behavior.  Peace agent candidates studied issues of immigration, both legal and illegal, in global studies as well as viewing other cultures with a subjective lens.  In this context, an activity surrounding the anthropological study, Nacirema, helped students to see American culture from an outsider’s perspective.  Finally, in communication class, students worked inside and outside of the classroom.  In class, they learned of different key concepts in intercultural communication – chronemics, chromatics, proxemics, appearance, artifacts and nonverbal communication . . . to name a few.  Outside of class, students split up into subgroups and interviewed a number of campus staff and faculty to gather more information about a wide array of experience in cultural transition, conflict and resolution and peacekeeping.  Some of the interviewees posed as Etans and donned the traditional markings from their culture.  Within the first week, the Etans’ stories needed to be believable within a modern day context (an argument with a family member over cultural beliefs, inner conflict over the inability to bear children, a living adjustment from one place to another), but needed to also represent the Etan story of struggle and migration once their identity was confirmed in the second week of camp.

The fun: Using the face of a faculty member who has been tangentially involved in past camp storylines, librarians, professors and RYSAG planning members created an Etan persona of this “first male leader” by tinting his photo blue, inserting his messages into each team’s blog, displaying his photo prominently (or in some cases, subtley) during scheduled interviews and producing a final day message from the “mothership” that addressed the good work completed by each team.  Additional hijinx included a “peace offering” that was left at each team’s headquarter location – a wine glass decorated with the Etan female symbol for water and maturity (envision the aquarius symbol) and filled with blue liquid (blue Kool-aid), a blue candleholder with one flameless candle lit and scattered multicolored beads – and a screen shot of a fake wikipedia entry describing the Etan culture fed into each team’s blog.  And did I forget to mention the Etan Intergalactic Library Blog?

Anyway . . . the general gist of the camp.  Perhaps the following video can bring greater life to the engaging, enriching and unforgettable camp experience.