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U hosts Ute Indian Tribe students for Annual Storytelling Camp

Last week the U hosted youth from the Ute Indian Tribe for the annual Ute Storytelling Camp. About 50 students—nearly double that of last year—attended this year’s camp, staying at Kahlert Village for a week of creative workshops and campus activities.

Leaders say the camp is a chance for kids to connect with their culture and each other while experiencing what the U has to offer.

“What I hope kids get out of the storytelling camp is a sense of being comfortable on a college campus and that they know it’s their school,” said Martha Macomber, who leads the camp in her role as Native American communities outreach director. The camp is a collaboration of the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the J. Willard Marriott Library, the College of Fine Arts, the American Indian Resource Center and other U partners.

“They get exposure to campus life and different possibilities and opportunities,” added Angelyn Caren, a tutor/mentor for the Ute Indian Tribe Education Department who served as a chaperone at the camp. “They get to dip their toes into the college life and think about what they want to do in three or four years.”

An event on June 8 showcased the students’ finished projects from the creative workshops, which included photography, graphic design, podcasting, animation, bookmaking and mural painting.

Aspiring artist and high school senior Yellowmoon Vanderhoop sketched the concept for the mural, a person wearing a colorful headdress. “A lot of the art I do is primarily surrounding my Ute and Wampanoag culture,” she said. She asked other students to contribute to a section of the piece because “I wanted it to represent us but also be us,” she explained. The students filled it with images from different tribal cultures, such as a Hopi turtle, a jingle-dress dancer and a tepee.

In other workshops, students decorated boxes with drawings and objects that were important to them—like a pair of beaded earrings made by one student’s mother or a star-and-moon necklace because “the night sky makes me feel safe and at home.” They created podcasts covering topics from ghost stories to pop culture to the worst trouble they’d ever gotten into.

In an Adobe Creative Cloud workshop, the students created posters using portrait photos and words they had chosen to describe themselves. One student’s list, for example, included “creative, smart, positive, gentle, artistic, thespian and nerd.” The goal of the workshop was to help kids express themselves while teaching them digital skills, explained Audra Carlisle, manager of digital creativity in UIT’s Digital Learning Technologies. She noted that most of the students had never used graphic design software before. “If we can get them started with playing with these kinds of tools,” she said, “then once they get to a university, they’re more prepared.”

Students also had a chance to explore careers by visiting workplaces and shadowing professionals.

“This is a way for you to start imagining what these jobs might be like,” Macomber told the students, who got to choose between a public television studio, radio station, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Summit County Attorney’s Office.

In between all these activities, students had fun exploring and playing on campus, including swimming at the Student Life Center, bowling at the Union and playing games in the Kahlert Village courtyard. But many of the students said the highlight of the storytelling camp was “getting to meet new people and talking to new people and making friends,” in the words of recent high school graduate Enriqueta Rojas.

“I think what they really do here is connect with one another,” said Macomber. “Now they’re like a cohort. That’s a really powerful thing to give rural kids—a sense of belonging, especially post-COVID.”

Caren shared her own personal highlight of the camp. “I love hearing some of them saying, ‘This is where I’m going to be in a year.’ It’s so awesome to hear them say they already know they’re going to come to school here.”

That includes Vanderhoop. After graduating high school, she plans to attend the U and major in art.