The Student Camp Leadership Academy: Developing the Next Generation of Camp Professionals

by Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, CPRP, and Rebekah Carmichael

logo"The Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA) is a weekend retreat that brings together students, camp professionals, national American Camp Association (ACA) staff and leadership to explore, learn, and understand what the camp professional of the future must be and the leadership opportunities within the ACA structure at the local and national levels to impact the development of youth and others" (ACA, 2008, p. 1). Logistically, the SCLA is a three-day weekend retreat that takes place in the fall of each year. SCLA is specifically designed for undergraduate and graduate student members of ACA who have spent at least one summer working at a camp and who plan to make camp a career.

The SCLA curriculum addresses critical professional development topics, such as standards, resources, and post-college professional training and conferences (e.g., New Director's Orientation, BCDC), and current trends and issues in American camps. The curriculum also addresses the future of the profession in terms of employment opportunities and industry needs.  Most importantly, SCLA serves as a time for sharing and as a launching pad for college students to network with their peers, as well as with leading professionals and academics.

SCLA is the innovation of Dr. Dale Adkins, professor and chairperson of the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Administration at Western Illinois University. In April 2004 at the ACA Mid-States Conference, Dr. Adkins gathered together with Gordie Kaplan (Illinois); Tom Neppl (Great Rivers); Kurt Podeszwa (formerly Illinois); Mary Rogers (St. Louis); Kim Rathsack (Wisconsin); Gail Tumidajewietz (Wisconsin); Kate Mace (Wisconsin); and Dr. Sandra Hupp (Illinois) to share his vision and to begin planning the first SCLA. The group agreed to have a formal planning meeting at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center on July 12, 2004, to crystallize the SCLA concept, and plan the logistics and curriculum of the first SCLA.  Dr. Hupp (Illinois); Lee Smith (St. Louis); Gordie Kaplan (Illinois); Tom Neppl (Great Rivers); Kurt Podeszwa (formerly Illinois); and Gabriel Castillo (Illinois) all attended the first formal planning meeting. At the July 2004 meeting, the Steering Committee decided that the initial plan to launch the first SCLA in November 2004 was too ambitious, so the group decided to back up the first SCLA to fall 2005. 

The founders started SCLA in an effort to cultivate young camp professionals and to educate them about the camp field.  The SCLA Planning Committee has produced three events (2005, 2006, and 2007) thus far, all of which have been held at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center in Bloomington, Illinois. Since the inaugural SCLA in 2005, a number of people have joined the SCLA Planning Committee representing other ACA local offices, such as ACA, Indiana, and ACA, Michigan.

From a participant perspective, over the course of three events, SCLA has been a powerful experience for approximately thirty-five students. However, we, as an association and profession, need to encourage more college students to attend. SCLA can serve up to twenty-five students per year. SCLA was developed initially for college students in the Mid-States region of the United States with the intention of other ACA local offices eventually collaborating and hosting regional SCLAs throughout the U.S. Interest in the event has drawn students from around the U.S., which demonstrates a need for the program. Students have attended from Western Illinois University; North Carolina State University; Ohio University; Eastern Illinois University; University of Missouri; Columbia College; Indiana State University; Winthrop University; Carroll College; Minnesota State University; Mankato, University of Wisconsin; La Crosse, University of Wisconsin; Stevens Point; Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis; University of Connecticut; University of Georgia; Michigan State University; University of Wisconsin; University of Illinois; Purdue University; James Madison University; and the University of Northern Iowa.

What do SCLA Alumni Have to Say?
SCLA alumni all have extremely positive things to say about their SCLA experience.

2007 SCLA alumus, Evan Russo, reaffirmed his career goals as a result of SCLA:

"The chance to ask questions and share experiences was the most valuable to me. We all know camps are a special place, but it is hard to see a roadmap of how to get from student to camp director/owner. Through our discussions, we were able to learn from each other as well as our facilitators and guests." Russo ended by saying that "SCLA taught me that I am not alone in my dreams and goals."

Janice Rinaldo reflected on her experience by saying:

"If I find a student who is interested in experiential education and considers working at camp a career opportunity, I would definitely suggest they apply. The three-day leadership training adds to their resume, improves their career opportunities, and offers fellowship with others who have found a passion to do a job they truly enjoy. Oh, and did I mention how much fun we had? The curriculum has been established and the experienced leadership in our field could easily duplicate the SCLA. If ACA would like to have 20,000 members by 2020, the time to start increasing awareness is now. Mentoring future camp leaders needs to start today for the future growth of the organization."

Another 2007 SCLA alum, Shannon Clark, from Indiana State University, said:

"I learned a lot of hands-on aspects and got to talk out real-life situations with other camp staff and professionals. I would tell anyone that they should go to SCLA if given the opportunity. The experience of being with other camp staff members, seeing how they do things at other camps, hearing new innovative ways to entertain and teach campers new things, and hearing from real professionals that are in the field either as camp directors or professors and past professionals was a wonderful learning time all around."

Lastly, Ben Cober, from the University of Illinois, reflected on his SCLA experience by saying:

"SCLA was not only an excellent net-working tool with my peers, but introduced me to a number of professionals in the field, which inadvertently led to an internship the following summer. I learned a very good staff training tool and discussed some issues with the group that I had always wondered about the camping industry. It was inspirational, educational, and empowering."

What's in it for Camps?
Currently, most sponsoring Midwestern ACA local offices have one to four SCLA scholarships available for college students who are members of their local office. Also, other non-SCLA sponsoring ACA local offices, as well as other organizations offer SCLA Scholarships.  For example, Gary Forster of YMCA of the USA offered a scholarship in 2007 for a college student who had worked for a YMCA camp program somewhere in the United States. SCLA fees can also be paid for by the college student or by the students' past, current, or future camp. Camps are encouraged to fund their staff to attend SCLA.

SCLA offers a unique opportunity to camps looking to recruit and retain quality staff.  The students who attend are not your average summer camp job fair attendees—they are not looking for just another summer job. They are planning careers in camp and are primed for success. Camps can sponsor current, former, or future staff members by funding scholarships for college students who qualify for SCLA. A camp's investment in one or more SCLA scholarships can serve as a pre-camp staff training tool and can assist in recruiting staff, both seasonal and full-time. Furthermore, many SCLA participants combine their SCLA experience by attending future regional and national conferences, as well as completing national training seminars (e.g., New Director's Orientation, BCDC, Standards Training, Visitor's Training). Investing in your camp career-oriented staff by funding SCLA scholarships can pay dividends by having your staff gain more training, certifications, and a larger professional network for them and your camp.

Application Process
The next SCLA will take place November 7-9, 2008, at CampWhite Eagle in Leaf River, Illinois (thirty miles from Rockford, Illinois). College students wanting to attend SCLA must apply and be approved to participate through their ACA section offices regardless of where the funding for the students' SCLA fee is coming from (even if the student is paying for himself or herself). The section offices and education/scholarship committees serve as a critical screening tool for ensuring that students attending SCLA have demonstrated a keen interest in the camp profession, as well as the maturity to attend an advanced collegiate training event. For further information, application deadlines, or application packets for the 2008 SCLA, please visit the SCLA Web site: Please, note that all application packets should be submitted to the executive director of the college students' ACA local office. All attendees must be a member of ACA.

The SCLA Planning Committee is well into planning for the 2008 SCLA.  The SCLA planning committee is continuing: 1) to recruit more college students to participate; 2) to encourage other groups of ACA sections to replicate the SCLA event to keep cost down for students; 3) to encourage more ACA sections to offer scholarships for SCLA; and 4) to encourage more camps to offer scholarships as a staff recruitment and staff training tool.

American Camp Association (2008). About SCLA: Student Camp Leadership Academy.
Martinsville, IN: American Camp Association. Available:

Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, CPRP, is an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Sport Management and serves as coordinator of the recreation management and youth leadership concentration at Indiana State University.  Dr. Schaumleffel also serves on the ISU Field Campus Management Team, a three-professor committee, to manage ISU's 73-acre outdoor education center.  Dr. Schaumleffel serves on the SCLA Planning Committee, the ACA Media Team, the ACA-Indiana Education Committee, and is working with the ACA national CARE committee on an emerging trends and issues in camp research project.  To contact Dr. Schaumleffel, e-mail

Rebekah Carmichael is currently a graduate student in recreation and sport management at Indiana State University and is serving as a research assistant on a national research study on emerging trends and issues in camp with the ACA national CARE committee.  She is an SCLA 2007 alumna and serves as the student board member to the ACA, Indiana Board of Directors. Carmichael also serves as the operations manager at Camp Greentop in Sabillasville, Maryland.  She can be reached at

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