Kate Young : Hi, I'm Kate Young and you're listening to, This Is Purdue, the official podcast for Purdue University. As a Purdue alum and Indiana native, I know firsthand about the family of students and professors who are in it together, persistently pursuing and relentlessly rethinking. Who are the next game changers, difference- makers, ceiling breakers, innovators, who are these boilermakers? Join me as we feature students, faculty, and alumni taking small steps toward their giant leaps and inspiring others to do the same.
Craig Johnson: We have the honor really of looking at all of the incoming students every year and saying, we get to serve the town. We get to share with them what's here. We have this cool opportunity to help folks get their start in a new place, in a new county, in a city, a new state, sometimes a new country. That is one of the biggest honors of a lifetime to be able to do this for these students.
Kate Young : Picture this, it's August. It's another hot and humid week in Indiana, but it's not just any week. You are moving into Purdue, for the first time you're on your own. You're ready to meet new people and encounter new things and grow and learn in ways you've never experienced before. And how do you kick off this chapter in your life? Three words, boiler gold rush. The BGR that boiler makers know and love now actually started as Corn Camp back in the nineties. Craig Johnson, director of orientation programs at Purdue tells us about BGR's early days.
Craig Johnson: It really started as a small little residence hall program in Cary Quad back in the early nineties, it was an idea of the hall coordinator there at that time, and the purpose then is still the purpose now. It was really an opportunity to try and connect new students together before they moved into their residence hall. So while that was a summer program then, and it was called Corn Camp. And of course Corn was an acronym. Corn stood for, collegians orientating residential newcomers, just a very excellent acronym of all of the pretty acronyms that one's got to be up there. And so they brought folks in, they acclimated them to Kerry and they have them connect with other students. And then after a couple of years, they really saw the impact of that and said," Why don't we do this at scale?" And that was really the birth of boiler gold rush, which just happened a couple of years later. And really since then we've continued to evolve it and it's grown, and its premise... The goal of it continues to be the same, just welcoming and connecting new students before they start classes.
Kate Young : We all know Purdue is large. It's a big 10 university with tens of thousands of people. And coming from high school, it can be really intimidating to navigate a campus, the size of Purdue. Craig and I discussed the importance of an orientation program like BGR for new students. And why do you think that's so important for new students? Some of them are leaving home for their first time ever. They're nervous, maybe they come from out of state, they don't know anyone in Indiana. What is the impacts of BGR when it comes to those aspects?
Craig Johnson: In a lot of cases it provides that sense of security and community. If students aren't meeting other students, if they don't know how to navigate campus, they're more likely to have a negative experience or not have as much confidence before they start or go into the school year. And so having an opportunity like this, where they are paired with students that live, generally speaking close to them, that they can connect with for a whole week before they even need to start to navigate. They can walk around and start to get a feel for what may seem like a really overwhelming place, but after a few days on campus starts to become really small and homey. It's an important start for them so that they can hopefully relieve some nerves and cure any anxieties before the start of term.
Kate Young : I visited Purdue before I chose Purdue. And even though Purdue so huge, once you navigate that campus, it is a lot less intimidating and more compact and then students are able to see that, especially during BGR, I'm sure.
Craig Johnson: And I will preface this by saying, I would love to think that these correlate exactly that we're the reason for all of this, but there are millions and millions of other factors that add into students ability to retain and stay at the institution. But generally speaking folks that participate in BGR, their first term GPA's are higher than their non participant peers. They generally graduate at a higher percentage as well at the university. And again, it's a baseline. We can't attest the person's four year experience to just BGR, but the numbers don't lie either. And so I think it's helpful to remember that it's really important to have a foundation whenever you transition somewhere else, whether you're an 18 year old that's coming in for the first time, or an international student or a transfer student that's coming to campus for the first time, or if you're an adult that's transitioning to a new city or a new job or something, having some solid foundation is really the key to success and building community right away. And so generally speaking students do succeed at a higher rate. We think that's a little bit because of the work that we do and the people that we were able to connect them with.
Kate Young : This fall, Purdue is welcoming it's the largest ever incoming class, and Craig and his team prepared for the largest BGR week in history.
Craig Johnson: We just looked at the numbers. And so this year with the size of the class, we have over 8, 500 currently registered for BGR. Our previous high was about 7, 200. So we are really experiencing the masses here. It's grown incrementally every year since I began here, and it has over the course of many, many years. And so in order to support that many students, we have to hire a lot of students. And so we have about 600 volunteer team leaders. These are the folks that they could be entering their second year. There are some that do this all four years of... so they're third or four time TLS and they are the ones leading new student groups around campus. We also have what we call mid- level team supervisors. These are folks who have been team leaders before, but want to give a little bit more mentorship student development, and so they're with us longer and are there to help mentor and support the team leaders throughout the week. And then we have our top group called, The Student Orientation Committee. That's a group of nine who are traditionally third year orientation leaders. They're the ones that are hired in September, right after BGR and are with us for a full year, full 12 months to help prep those team supervisors, to help train and recruit them and the team leaders, and then help us with all sorts of details and logistics for the program as well.
Kate Young : As you can imagine, planning a week long event of this size takes a village. Of course, there's Craig and his team at Purdue. The BGR would not be able to function without all of the 700 plus student volunteers. There's a Student Orientation Committee, who oversees the training and development team, the recruitment and retention team and the orientation team. Then there's the team of supervisors, their job is to mentor the team leaders. And of course those team leaders... you may still remember yours, are a very special part of the BGR experience.
Jamie Lawton Shrugger: Our team leaders, our lowest tier of staff, their job is to orient the new students. They spend the week with them. They're their first face that they see on campus. And they really play the most critical parts in our structure.
Kate Young : That was Jamie Lawton, Shrugger. She's this year student orientation committee chair. I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie and she is such an impressive and involved young woman. Jamie explains how she got involved in BGR.
Jamie Lawton Shrugger: Being an orientation leader gave me my sense of belonging at Purdue. When I first showed up to boiler gold rush as a new student in 2018, I remember feeling really lost. There were so many people around me, a lot of people that knew one another and I just didn't know a lot of individuals on campus. So I found it really hard to make friends right away, but I remember seeing the team leaders having such a fun time like knowing everyone across campus. I remember seeing the team supervisors dancing in the aisles for the main sessions at boiler gold rush. And so when I was feeling really down and out my spring semester, I decided to apply. And being a team leader helps me make friends. It helps me find my sense of belonging here.
Kate Young : A sense of belonging and being immersed in this Purdue community was an overall theme I kept hearing throughout BGR again and again, and again. Here's Craig.
Craig Johnson: The biggest thing for us is that small little group that our team leaders facilitate. We sort our students based on where they live, generally speaking on campus. And so our hope is that they're meeting and connecting with people that either live in their floor or live on their residence hall, or at least live in the general neighborhood that's nearby them. And then two, we do some silly stuff throughout the week that's really all around building sense of community. So we have an event that's called, The Common Bond Dance. So our student staff selects a song every year, and then the rest of our student staff submit dance moves and we put it all together and that is loud and present and obnoxious throughout the week. But it... in some ways it builds community, just because of people acting foolish and being vulnerable and enjoying this time together. And so I would say the teams, The Common Bond Dance, but then there are also things that we're giving them either experiences or physical items or that sort of things, these symbols of the Purdue community to keep building that sense of belonging and that to make them feel welcomed as they're coming to campus, many of which for the first time.
Kate Young : If you participated in BGR, you likely remember a few events or activities that stuck out to you. And Craig and his team have continued to evolve, including adding Fountain Fest to PGRs growing list of events. What are some student favorite traditions, would you say? Or is there a staple every year that the students are like,"I can't wait for this event on this day?"
Craig Johnson: I would say that for our student leaders, because I don't think our new students know, and I think some of them are quite surprised when we talk about The Common Bond Dance, for example. I think our student leaders get really into it, but as an 18 year old coming in and everybody's unified, dancing to the song, it could be a little bit overwhelming and shocking and a little confusing to them at times. And so I think that's a good one that our students really enjoy participating in, and then our mid- level students who really enjoy contributing to that and seeing their moves come alive as well. I think the fountain participation is always a good one when few people are able to go through the fountains for the first time, I think that's a really good one. We've made that event into what we call Fountain Fest, which happened a couple of years ago and is back this year as well, so that's a really exciting event that happens. And really it's fun to see when students walk into a space for the first time. So whether they're walking into Mackey Arena, or whether they're walking into Ross Aid stadium, or they're walking into Elliott Hall of Music, or even a classroom, some of the lecture halls like seal 5224, weather all 200. For them to go, and I think that's when you start to see the realization like," Oh, dang, this is what I'm part of. This is what I'm stepping into." That's a really fun thing to visualize and a fun thing to recognize the wave of emotions even that new students are experiencing as they navigate campus and all of the sights and sounds for the first time.
Kate Young : So what better way to hear about students BGR experiences than during BGR. We went behind the scenes during the week to grab some interviews. Here's Charles Wang. We caught him as he was crossing the tracks, a tradition that signifies the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Purdue. Incoming freshmen ceremoniously crossed the tracks each fall during BGR. And then after graduation students crossed the tracks to the north, symbolizing the entry into a world of unlimited opportunity made possible by a Purdue education. What brought you to Purdue?
Charles Wang: I saw online and it seems like fantastic community. It seemed like a really fun place. And I want to do... I'm majoring in food science, and it was really good in that area. So that's why I decided to come.
Kate Young : And what has the BGR experience been like for you?
Charles Wang: Oh, yeah. As of now it's been really fun, just exploring campus, meeting new friends, meeting new people and again, learning a lot of traditions and knowing where everything is/=.
Kate Young : We met freshman Jack Kaufman after asking a few BGR groups, if anyone wanted to participate in an interview on, This Is Purdue. His group immediately yelled," Jack!" And clapped and cheered, clearly nominating him as their spokesperson. Tell us what your BGR experience has been like so far.
Jack Kaufman: So far the BGR experience has been great. I'm part of [PWAG, PWAG 00:13:42] I'm very excited to get into the rest of the week, start meeting new people, learn the campus, get into it.
Kate Young : Have you met any new friends in your BGR group?
Jack Kaufman: Oh my gosh. I have met way more people. I think my snap contact list has probably doubled in the past two days.
Kate Young : What are you most excited about for this school year?
Jack Kaufman: Ooh, probably the rigorous academics, came from a pretty tough high school, but I'm looking forward also to meet new tons of new people. 10, 000 people, my high school class was 200 graduates and here we are with 10,000, that's just unbelievable to me. I can't comprehend that.
Kate Young : Jack also shared his group beacon the flag of Spain. One of our team's favorite parts of spending the day at BGR that week, was checking out all of the beacons. If you attended BGR, you'll likely remember your beacon right away when you think back. I know several of my colleagues reminisced on theirs. Craig explains the tradition behind beacons.
Craig Johnson: This is one of my favorite parts of BGR, is to see the creativity shine from our students staff. I think it started a little bit before my time when the idea of beacons came, it was definitely in full force when I started here at Purdue. The idea of beacons really in its most simple is to have a very clear indicator of where my team leader is, if I'm a new student and I'm navigating all of these things for the first time, at least I can recognize this thing, whether it's a fork or a blown up picture of President Daniels or something else that's around, I at least know that," Okay, that's where my team leader is." Or I know that I'm generally in the right place if I get lost in the traffic and that sort of thing. But our students really get into it, and so there are lots of different varieties. I've seen cartoon characters and memes and the heads of famous people either produce specific or not produce specific, replicas of bell towers and of the engineering fountain all of these other things. I think my favorite was from a team leader a couple of years ago, spent his whole summer building a replica boilermaker special that he could fold into his car and attached to his bike. So he would drive around on this boilermaker special. He even had PVC pipe that he made, and this is the ingenuity of our students. He made sure that he understood which pitch the boilermaker special was. So I'm making things up here, but I was like," Okay, so that's an a flat, that's an F sharp, that's a C or whatever." And he tuned the PVC pipe in a whistle form so that when he blew through his PVC pipe, which he just carried around on his backpack or put on his fold- up train, he could blow the boilermaker special and it would... it sound as close to what a PVC version of the boilermaker special horn was, he would blow that throughout the week. So that's probably the most extreme people get, but some do it simple a fork or a yard stick or something like that, just to so that too. So it's really creative and it's really fun to watch our students come back and to see a lineup of 600 individual different beacons come through to show the students around right before the week starts.
Kate Young : That day, I saw a clear umbrella morphed into a jellyfish with colorful streamers as tentacles, which was actually a really smart move because it not only provided shade, the leader's group members could spot it from a mile away. Other beacons featured characters from iconic TV shows like The Office and a few of our men's basketball coach, Matt Painter. And of course, dozens of others featured Purdue University President Mitch Daniels. My personal favorite, a remake of Taylor Swift's 1989 album with President Daniel's face on it instead of Taylor's. If you're a T Swift fan, I'm sure you can imagine. Anyways, there's something so energizing about being on campus on a beautiful day right before school starts. And especially being on campus and witnessing 8, 000 new students experience Purdue, some for the very first time. But how does Craig and his team work to keep the energy high? And why is this a week long experience at a school the size of Purdue so unique?
Craig Johnson: In a lot of ways, boiler gold rush is like putting on a festival for 8, 018 year olds. It's a little bit crazy. Yeah. So there are so many different events. We have sessions at different stages. We have events happening throughout the week. We have meet and greets and all sorts of faculty and celebrities, that's produced celebrities at least then, coming through and connecting. And so the challenge for us is not only to orient them to the place that they're going to live and the community they're going to be a part of, but also let them have some fun. They're 18, or they're transfer students that are coming in at 19, 20, 21 maybe. We want them to come in and enjoy their experience at BGR. And so why not have a little fun with it? So that's why we have music playing all the time. We have folks that are up, alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic at seven o'clock in the morning for breakfast every day. It is a pretty cool thing. And we're... with the size and scale and the amount that we do, there are not many orientation programs across the country that have similar experience to this. I can really count them on a hand or two that do this at the size and scale. So we're very fortunate to have the support that we do at the university. Very fortunate to have the culture that BGR has been through and having it be here for almost 30 years now is part of the Purdue tradition. It's part of the Purdue history, and now tens and tens and tens of thousands of students, hundreds of thousands of students have gone through BGR, and it's truly part of the Purdue tradition here on those campuses.
Kate Young : Yeah. Elaborate a little bit on that. We're a big 10 school. Purdue's huge. How has this continued to evolve throughout the years and build into what it is and why is it so rare to have that on a campus like the size of Purdue?
Craig Johnson: Just with size, obviously Purdue has experienced some really positive and exponential growth over the last few years in particular. And so just from a logistic standpoint, the mechanism of BGR are significantly different even then it was five years ago, and definitely the five years before that. Even five years ago, we're talking about 2000 fewer students. And so what are all the things that, that comes with? So we have to think about how many days of moving. We have to think about how many team leaders we need to hire to support these students. We have to think about Elliott while huge has a limit for how many seats are in the auditorium, so what are some other ways that we can engage in other spaces around campus? And so it's evolved. The number of days is evolved. The number of moving days has evolved. The number of staff, the type of sessions. And then you also have to recognize where the students are at too. And so these students coming in as 18 year olds now are very different than the 18 year olds five years ago, or 10 years ago, let alone 30. Some of the technology additions or just what their experiences are like in the high school or previous institution settings are different, and what it's like to be a Purdue student is different, buildings change and roads change and all of these things. And so we need to do everything we can to keep evolving and keep applicable mating and still keep the spirit of BGR and that welcoming space alive for these students.
Kate Young : I'm so glad you touched on that, that's so true. And all the social media and kids are probably posting all over social media about their experience of BGR. Do you get feedback from students or how do you guys continue to iterate and think of new ideas to keep it fresh every year?
Craig Johnson: It starts with our students, our new students. We have really good responses in our survey. We assess them ahead of time before the program and after the program, so we get a lot of good feedback there. And then with our student staff too, we're often asking them for ideas, let's reflect on this event, did it land? And oftentimes we know in the middle of that event, if it's landing or not. And so sometimes when you asked earlier about what's next for 2022, ask us during BGR mid event, and we'll say either yay or nay. This is the thing that we'll keep doing in the future. And so get a lot of firsthand experience with our full- time staff members and then students all the way through, whether it's our leadership or with our new students. And as I've said before, things changed from the university too, so President Daniels may have something that he's interested in promoting or other new initiatives may come up on campus that take when, then we want to promote that and encourage students to participate in that during BGR. So definitely changes every year. We're getting feedback from all corners of our students and our staff and administrators at Purdue to plan for the next year.
Kate Young : As you can all imagine, BGR looked different heading into the fall 2020 semester than it looked this year. But it still happened, and thousands of students were still able to participate and keep this Purdue tradition alive. Obviously last year, everyone was excited to be back on campus, thanks to President Daniels and The Protects Purdue Initiative, but BGR looked different. People were in masks. There are a lot of safety measures. How do you feel coming into this year and how will it be different for these students to experience this year versus last year in the pandemic?
Craig Johnson: I think generally speaking, we know so much more about how we can navigate this than we did a year ago at this time. We still were in a lot of ways preparing and wishing and hoping. We'd seen a lot of peers navigate their own challenges with starting up, and I just commend to everybody that was able to work with us to get BGR up to speed. Because last year we still had over 6, 000 participants of BGR in person on campus, we just really didn't have anybody in an indoor space. It was really bizarre. We had live- streamed all of the sessions, and so people were watching on their phones, on YouTube or on our website. So we did what we could with what we knew and what we had. This year, we're doing the same thing and it's just going to feel a lot more robust. We are inside venues. We are able to know and respond to the policies and procedures that are in effect for the summer and the fall. Really, in some ways it's us celebrating the fact that we can do this again. I think it's helpful for us to always remember what happened in 2020 and all the things that we weren't able to do. And so to have a BGR that is at this size with this group of students who have their own challenges in high school, and at their previous institutions come to now here and be able to see and celebrate the work that Purdue did over the course of the last year. I'm very excited about it. Our staff has been excited to plan and prep for actual events, not just digital or remote events, it's just really reinvigorating. And of course we're following all the Protect Purdue protocols and guidelines. And yet, because of the leadership at this institution we're able to know what we can and cannot do. And we're just really excited to bring everybody back and experience this campus, many for the first time.
Kate Young : As Craig mentioned, Elliot Hall Of Music was off limits when it came to gathering indoors during BGR in 2020. But this year BGR participants were able to check out this iconic building on campus as part of the Protect Purdue session. This particular session was dedicated to educating new students about the Protect Purdue guidelines and also safety on campus overall. Parents and remote students were also able to watch the whole session on a live stream. I had the honor of moderating the session in Elliott, and I was pleasantly surprised with how many incoming freshmen knew about This Is Purdue. Who are you listens to podcasts? Okay. Who here knows about This Is Purdue, the official university podcast, anyone? All right. Has anyone listened to an episode that they'd like to share for a t- shirt? The session included panelists LT Pelto and Kristy Ruby, COVID nursing managers for one- to- one health and the Protect Purdue health center, Chief John Cox with the Purdue University police department and Chief Kevin Ply with the Purdue University fire department. To wrap up the session, Chief Cox and Chief Ply, both had wonderful advice to share with these incoming students. What's your biggest piece of advice for all of these students going into their fall semester?
Chief Cox: Well, I would say enjoy it. Enjoy your time here. Work hard, study hard. I think the hardest thing that I've seen incoming freshmen try to learn to do is try to come up with that... what I'll call work life balance. You're going to have to set schedules and maybe you didn't have to do that in high school because it came easy to you, but this isn't high school anymore. And so study hard, take a break when you can enjoy what's Lafayette and the surrounding community has to offer. I think that you'll find this is a very safe place and a place that you can enjoy a lot of fun activities. So enjoy.
Chief Ply: And like Chief Cox said, enjoy your time here at Purdue University, it's great time you're going to be learning both in the classroom, and as a person like he said, this is a high school anymore. This is as you're transitioning in life. So make sure that you enjoy this time, but make good decisions.
Kate Young : After moderating that session, the marketing and communications team hosted a VIP experience for a few BGR groups that included their very own, This Is Purdue t- shirt and some professional group photos by the engineering fountain to always remember their BGR groups. That's where we met Zoe Pike. Zoe's energy and excitement was radiating off of her. She shares what brought her to Purdue.
Zoe Pike: My family went here, so I've been a boilermaker since birth, but I wanted to go into animal sciences and it's one of the best. So that's why I chose to ultimately come here.
Kate Young : What's been your favorite BGR experience so far?
Zoe Pike: Probably I'd say just seeing just us in there. That was pretty cool, because I've only been there for football games when I was little. So just having the whole place to ourselves, that was really nice.
Kate Young : And you said your parents went here, you've been a boilermaker since birth. What is this Purdue community mean to you?
Zoe Pike: It means a lot. I'm really connected to my family here just because they've had so many of the same experiences. It was a lot different when they came here, but I just feel like... I don't know. I feel like I get to do the same things they did and it's fun to talk to them about it, because they've had the same go around.
Kate Young : It was so special to see firsthand what an impact BGR has on these incoming students. I had so much fun getting to know Craig and his team better. And it was an absolute honor to be a part of this year's BGR with the official university podcast. Craig tells us what it means to him to execute this BGR experience for thousands of students at Purdue University, a place so rich in history and tradition.
Craig Johnson: For me It means a lot. I love working with the people that I work with, particularly. For anybody who's watching or listening, hey, nothing is better than working with a good team. If you're working and most of us have to work to provide a living for ourselves, if you can connect and be with people that you enjoy working with and respect, that makes a world of difference. So I've been very, very lucky to work for some great people and have a team of really great people and that's why I'm here. Beyond that, the tradition, the legacy, that stuff gets me really excited. I did not attend Purdue University as an undergrad, but growing up in the Midwest I knew all about it, it's a big 10 school, watching Robbie Humble on ESPN. These are things that I grew up watching as a fan and that sort of thing. Little did I know that I would end up here, and so I think that what keeps me, what keeps our team around and energized is the support from our leadership, the quality of people that we work with, not only in our office, but all across campus and that you can do some really cool things with and lean into the pretty history and tradition. And that's always exciting to welcome people to that for the first time.
Kate Young : Robbie Humble, those were the days. That's one of my days at Purdue. You touched on you didn't go to Purdue, but now why are you proud to be a boilermaker?
Craig Johnson: I have really fallen in love with this place. So I've been working here for six years. My predecessor is here for 10. And so it's a place that... in higher ed and probably with many other jobs, you go into a job and you have a timeline," Oh, I'm going to be here for two years, then I'm going to go to the next thing. And I'm going to go to the next thing," or whatever. But here I am six years later sitting here talking to you of how much I love this place. So for me, the people made the world of a difference for me and coming from the Midwest, it's a very Midwest place. There's a lot of nice people, lot of excellent traditions. And what's funny is that our professional staff that's here, none of us went to Purdue. And so it's funny that we've all landed here and really leaned in to the tradition and the opportunity to welcome in such a cool position to have the honor really of looking at all of the incoming students every year and saying we get to set the tone, we get to share with them what's here. We get to share with them in person and virtually in whatever mode. Do we do that perfectly every year? No, nobody's perfect at their job. We continue to evolve and react and change, and yet the root of it doesn't change. We have this cool opportunity to help folks get their start in a new place, in a new county, a new city, a new state, sometimes a new country. And that is one of the biggest honors of a lifetime to be able to do this for these students.
Kate Young : Be sure to check out the photos and videos, featuring all things BGR on purduenews. exposure. co. You can also keep up with BGR by following them on media at, all aboard Purdue. Thanks for listening to This Is Purdue. For more information on this episode, visit our website at purdue. edu/ podcast. There you can head over to your favorite podcast app to subscribe and leave us a review and as always boiler up.
In this episode of This Is Purdue, we’re going behind the scenes at Purdue’s largest Boiler Gold Rush event yet ahead of the start of the 2021 Fall Semester.
Listen in as we chat with Craig Johnson, Director of Orientation Programs at Purdue, about how BGR – formerly known as CORN Camp - originated, and how the team continues to evolve this massive event year after year.
Plus, we’re attending several events at BGR and talking to students experiencing BGR for the very first time.
If you’re a Purdue alumni, you’re sure to feel some nostalgia during this episode!