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4 awesome campus clubs you've never heard of

inquisitive squirrel on log

Whether you're looking to make friends, hone your practical skills or stay in shape while you're in college, there's a weird and wacky student organization just waiting for you. College campuses are packed with traditional arts groups, professional associations, sports clubs and special interest organizations, but you can also find surprise groups you've never heard of that can help you achieve the same goals. Here are four of the craziest clubs on college campuses.

For the social scene: University of Michigan's Squirrel Club, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The UMich Squirrel Club website says it all:

"What do we do at a Squirrel Club meeting? We feed peanuts to the squirrels and have a good time. No stress, no dues, just the pure joy of having a squirrel take a peanut out of your hand. Maybe two or three if he's hungry."

One of the largest student groups on campus, the Squirrel Club meets every Sunday and serves as a way for students to get to know each other, take a much-needed break from homework, and promote squirrel appreciation and welfare, says Michigan sophomore and club president Mathew Wiesman.

"It's relaxing to come and feed squirrels and just kind of connect with nature and see a bunch of other people also doing that," Wiesman says. "It's also a great way to meet people."

Michigan isn't home to the nation's only squirrel club, but they're few and far between. Cornell University maintains an active group, as do a few select high schools throughout the country, Wiesman says.

To develop real-world skills: Principia College's Solar Car Team, Elsah, Illinois

"We're literally building an experimental vehicle that's essentially ultra-lightweight, using only energy from the sun, running down the road on about the energy of a hair dryer, about 1,400 watts," says Joe Ritter, one of the faculty advisers for the Principia Solar Car team. He adds that the car uses an on-board battery pack to store the solar energy. "Then [we] drive across a continent — or in our case, the length of the continent."

Ritter and the rest of the Principia team are getting ready to show off their newest car, a vehicle that's been nearly two years in the making, at the American Solar Challenge, a 1,700-mile "rayce" that goes from Austin, Texas, to Minneapolis in late July. In fall 2015, they'll head to Australia to compete in the World Solar Challenge, where the team has taken sixth and seventh place in years past.

In addition to building an interesting alternative energy vehicle, the solar car team also helps students develop skills they'll use after graduation, Ritter says.

"The organization was started to have an engineering project to give students an opportunity to practice engineering skills, everything from design to teamwork, communication, problem-solving, project management," he explains. "It's a great project to be involved in."

Several other schools also maintain competitive solar car teams, including the University of Michigan, Oregon State, Stanford and Rice.

To stay fit: Rock Valley College's Hula Hoop Club, Rockford, Illinois

This ain't your granddad's hula hooping. Specializing in hula hoop dancing and tricks, this club provides an outside-the-box workout and an alternative to the gym, says club founder and recent Rock Valley grad, Iva Andonovska.

"It's a wonderful way to spend free time," she says. "It's a lot of fun. It keeps you in shape if you do it regularly. I honestly feel like it gave me a little bit more self-confidence as well."

Armed with a bigger budget for the upcoming year, the RVC Hula Hoop Club doesn't only seek to teach team members about the art of hooping — it also hopes to show them how the experts do it as well. This year, the club plans to organize a trip to the Flow Show arts showcase in Chicago to see professional-level hooping in action.

Rock Valley isn't the only hoop-centric school. Ithaca College in New York and the University of Southern Maine both offer hula hoop clubs, while the Georgia Institute of Technology offers hoop workout classes.

For your special interests: The Penn State Furries, State College, Pennsylvania

Some join for the artwork. Some join for spiritual reasons. Some join because they like walking around in costume. Some join solely for the camaraderie, says Corey Friedenberger, a PSU graduate and spokesman for the school's unofficial Furries club. Celebrating a wide array of anthropomorphic interests, the club hosts social activities for Penn State students and alumni who enjoy furry fandom. It also organizes trips to local furry and anime conventions as well as to Anthrocon, the world's largest annual anthropomorphic conference. The club currently boasts 15 to 25 regular members and strives to provide a welcoming atmosphere to all members, Friedenberger says.

"We try to be as open and accepting as possible of everybody," he says. "We don't want to judge anybody. We've had all sorts of interesting people come and go. Basically, everyone is welcome to just be themselves and just have fun."

Sources:

American Solar Challenge, Formula Sun Grand Prix 2014,
http://americansolarchallenge.org/the-competion/ascfsgp-2014/

Iva Andonovska, Rock Valley Hula Hoop Club Founder, Interviewed by the author, June 13, 2014

Anthrocon,
http://www.anthrocon.org/

Squirrel Club at Cornell, Cornell University,
https://orgsync.com/74310/chapter

Flow Show Chicago, The Flow Arts,
http://fundtheflowarts.org/flow-show/

Corey Friedenberger, Spokesman for the Penn State Furries, Interviewed by the author, June 12, 2014

Hoop Dance, Georgia Tech Division of Student Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology,
http://www.crc.gatech.edu/gitfit/plugins/content/index.php?id=705

Hoopla Club, Ithaca College,
http://www.ithaca.edu/sacl/recsports/sportsclubs/?item=5642

"Meet the Penn State Furries," Maggie McGlinchy, Onward State, March 31, 2014,
http://onwardstate.com/2014/03/31/meet-the-penn-state-furries/

OSU Solar Vehicle Team, Oregon State University,
http://groups.oregonstate.edu/solar/

Principia Solar Car Team, Principia College,
http://www.principiasolarcar.com/

Rice Solar Car Team, Rice University,
http://www.solarcar.rice.edu/

Dr. Joe Ritter, Ph.D., Dean of Academics, Professor and Faculty Adviser to the Principia Solar Car Project, Interviewed by the author, June 13, 2014

Rock Valley Hula Hoop Club, Rock Valley College,
https://rockvalley.collegiatelink.net/organization/hulahoopclub/about

Stanford Solar Car Project, Stanford University,
http://solarcar.stanford.edu/

Estimating Appliances and Home Energy Use, U.S. Department of Energy,
http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/estimating-appliance-and-home-electronic-energy-use

Solar Car Team, University of Michigan,
http://solarcar.engin.umich.edu/about-us/

The Squirrel Club, University of Michigan,
http://www.michigansquirrels.com/

Hula Hooping Club, University of Southern Maine,
http://usm.maine.edu/studentlife/hoop-club-weekly-meeting

Mathew Wiesman, President of the University of Michigan Squirrel Club, Interviewed by the author, June 10, 2014

World Solar Challenge,
http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/