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An estimated 15,000 high school students and young adults gather on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus every summer to participate in one of the 100 different camps the school offers.

The majority of the camps are overseen by UNL Conference Services, according to their assistant director Tony Rathgeber.

“We’re [the campers’] main point of contact” he said. “We provide them with their basic needs, such as housing, food and parking.”

Out of the 100, there are three camps that attract the most people to UNL’s campus: the International Thespian Festival, CIY MOVE and Boys/Girls State.

The International Thespian Festival, also known as ThesFest, is a week-long festival for high school students interested in theater. This year’s ThesFest was held from June 25 to June 30.

Organized by the Educational Theatre Association and UNL, ThesFest provides students with hands-on theater experience.

Students are given opportunities to learn from professional actors and improve their stage performances.

“The festival presents students with the opportunity to learn more about theatre,” Rathgeber said. “They learn about different aspects of theatre such as sound and lighting.”

The first ThesFest was held at Indiana University in 1941 and later moved to UNL in 1995.

Since the move, ThesFest attendance has increased in size. A record 4,400 people attended the 2018 ThesFest.

Due to its ever-growing attendance, ThesFest will move back to Indiana University in Bloomington in 2020. The event will still be held at UNL in 2019.

CIY, or Christ in Youth, MOVE is a five-day, nationwide church conference for high school students. The conferences are held at various college campuses, with UNL being the only destination in Nebraska. 

MOVE’s intent is to equip young Christians to become better leaders and servants of Jesus Christ.

The conference attracts more than 30,000 high school students nationwide. UNL began hosting MOVE in 2012. Since then, there has been significant growth in attendance. This year, UNL hosted over 2,000 high school students at MOVE.

Boys State and Girls State are high school leadership camps designed to teach students about American history and government at the local, county and state levels. The camps are held during the first week of June.

Boys State was founded in 1919 by the American Legion, a U.S. war veterans’ organization.

Girls State was formed in the late 1930s by the American Legion Auxiliary, an organization that focuses on veteran service for women.

Upon arrival, the students are divided into two groups: the Nationalists and the Federalists.

The two groups serve as an example of how a two-party system functions rather than reflecting the existing Democratic and Republican parties.

Other activities include mock trials, campaigning and mock elections.

Statewide, UNL houses more than 900 high school students for Boys and Girls State combined.

The camps have proved to not only be life-changing experiences for the campers, but the staff as well.

Hannah Dickson, who worked as a senior conference assistant this summer, said that playing an active role in the summer camps has helped enhance her communication and interpersonal skills.

“I’ve gotten to interact with a lot of interesting people that I normally would not have contact with,” the senior sociology major said.

One of her favorite parts about the summer camps is their diversity.

“There’s a lot of variety,” she said. “It’s hard for me to choose a favorite.”

According to Rathgeber, a majority of the summer camps are sponsored by UNL and the university is actively pursuing more camps to bring to Lincoln.

“We have a great sales and marketing team that tries to appeal to other camps and try to get them to come to UNL,” he said. “We would love to see more camps come to UNL in the future.”

Rathgeber said he believes the influx of people on campus during the summer could help increase UNL’s student body over time.

“I see this as an opportunity to have youth on campus as a way to possibly recruit future UNL students,” he said. “The amount of people we see on campus over the summer makes me excited for the university’s future.”

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