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Reflecting on QUEST’s First Winter Orientation

QUEST Camp (or Orientation) is the first introduction students have to the culture of quality and innovation within QUEST. In only two days, teams are formed, relationships are made, and pilot products are pitched. All these activities prepare the students for not just 190H, but the program as a whole.

I spoke to four students who recently went to QUEST Camp to gain a better understanding of how they feel it’s shaped their experience so far. Cece and Andrew are both members of Q26 and are mentors for Q30 this spring. Carly and Barret are both members of Q30 and just started 190H this spring.

Carly (third from right) with her team and mentor!

Questions for the Q30 Students

What pushed you to apply to the QUEST program?

Barret – I wanted to be surrounded by some of the most ambitious and knowledgeable students at UMD and use this community to grow my personal skill set.

Carly – Everyone who I had met at the business school had been driven and had already gotten heavily involved with multiple organizations within Smith. I had also been searching for a community of people to be with that would inspire me to think outside of the box and talk about important issues. QUEST seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet those kinds of people and really expand my way of thinking.

When you first heard about QUEST camp, what were you expecting?

Barret – A bunch of team building exercises and ice breakers. I was excited to meet my team and my cohort, but I thought the ice breakers were going to be cheesy and repetitive.

Carly – I was expecting a lot of ice breakers and tents when I first heard about QUEST camp. Also, we were the first cohort that was going to be going in the winter, and I figured we were going to be absolutely freezing and outside the whole day. I think that most of my cohort knew very little about QUEST camp so we would be surprised when we got there. None of us were expecting to get so close to our team so fast or to be inspired by design thinking within the first hour of being there.

What was the most exciting part of the experience?

Barret – My team, Q Debut, won the pitch competition with our idea Drop Stop, which is a rubber lip that is placed on the end of gas nozzles to ensure that no gas is spilled onto the ground. This helps the environment and then saves money. I never win anything, so it was nice to see our team achieve some early success.

Barret presents during the pilot products presentations

Carly – The most exciting part about QUEST camp for me was learning about the values of all the people in my team. I was surprised that most of us valued time management and careful planning which made me excited to enter into group projects with them. I’ve never been in a group project where I really thought that everyone as going to put all of their effort into it. I’m excited to work with my team and learn more about areas I know absolutely nothing about.

What part of the camp pushed you the farthest out of your comfort zone?

Barret – The improv. I hate dancing/acting in front of other people, but my team just went for it full speed, and we had a great time. The activity definitely brought us closer together as a team and might have helped contribute to our success in the pitch competition.

Carly – One problem my team really struggled with was coming up with problems before we came up with solutions. QUEST really challenges you to go beyond surface level thinking and find the root cause of problems before trying to solve them. This is something I hadn’t thought about before and definitely has challenged me to reflect more on my day-to-day life. Our mentor constantly kept putting us back on the right track when we would get derailed.

How do you think the QUEST camp experience is going to help you as you move forward through the program?

Barret – QUEST is all about the people, and whether or not you have a good experience can depend on whether or not you have a good team. My team is closer because of camp, and I hope this carries into the semester.

Carly – As we move forward into the semester, I know that I have already learned the basic idea of QUEST from the days spent at QUEST camp. It was made extremely clear to us that everyone who has been through the 190H-490H experience (our mentors) has grown immensely from it. The professors that joined us at QUEST camp were so excited to welcome us into the program and appeared extremely passionate about the work they do here. It’s clear that the program really impacts students, and QUEST camp has definitely laid the foundation for that learning.


Questions for the Mentors

What do you think of the staggered QUEST camp model (excursions in the summer & winter)?

Cece – As a member of Q26, I experienced the old model. It was nice to be able to spend part of a day with our sister cohort Q25. However, during the semester, my cohort, including myself, felt detached from QUEST. I think this new model allows for there to be a natural flow and connection between what is learned at QUEST camp and what is experienced during 190H.

Cece (bottom middle) with her team

Andrew – I think that this model worked out well, given the circumstances! I think it provides the new spring cohort with a smoother transition into their QUEST journey with 190H following shortly after. Some of the activities had to be changed around for weather-related reasons, but I thought that the new activities (i.e. improvisations instead of high ropes, bonfire inside instead of outside) that replaced the summer ones were still effective and fun in their rights.

What was the hardest part about going through QUEST camp as a mentor?

Cece – As a team member and participant of QUEST, the activities are structured to help you break down barriers and build bonds with your team. As a mentor, you have to understand and recognize that. Therefore, I had to determine what my role should be in every activity to ensure I was assisting but not partaking in their QUEST camp experience as if it was my own. It was hard to find that line and make sure not to cross it.

Andrew – It was hard to hold myself back from acting like a team member, especially during the pilot products activity. Having gone through 190H, 390H, 490H, and other courses having team-related projects, I was caught by surprise at the difference the role of a mentor entails rather than being simply a team member. However, it soon became an easy adjustment to overcome, learning to leverage my previous experiences and insights to these situations.

In what way did your team exceed your expectations?

Cece – I worked with my team in brainstorming ideas for the Pilot Products but let them build the idea by themselves. So it wasn’t until the following day that I saw their full presentation, and it was better than I expected. The skit was funny and well planned and they communicated important information in a succinct way. It was better than my 190H team and our “nano-fibers.”

Andrew – Letting the team take most of the initiative to develop their product, I was surprised and excited to see the level of aptitude that this team had, both individually and collectively as a team. They developed ideas and built off each other’s idea for what they presented at QUEST camp without any knowledge of the lessons they’ll learn in 190H. In addition, they all indicated that each of them shared an attribute of effective and clear communication, something that will be vital to their success with the QUEST Honors Program, and it clearly showed when I was and wasn’t with them. 

How do you think the QUEST camp experience is going to help you as you move forward as a mentor?

Cece – It helped me begin to understand what my role is as a mentor. Making sure to be helpful but not helping will take a while to learn. It also helped me build a bond with my team. Playing the different games and getting more comfortable was important for my team to experience and myself as a mentor.

Andrew – The opportunity to meet my team and see how they function together provided me a clear idea of my role and position I need to have as their mentor this semester. Being able to see them work together as a team in a stress-free, grade-free environment provided me insight into better understanding the backgrounds of each team member, as well as served as a basis for which all my mentees can improve upon for the semester.

Andrew and his mentee, Kevin, during Improv

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