Academic Connections Hosts Teenagers

For three weeks, 137 high school students in the Academic Connections summer program have occupied three residence halls in Revelle College. They arrived July 1 from all over the country, and live, sleep, dine and study on campus. One student came from England to study.

Lyon Liew

The Academic Connections program is in its first year. The program, founded and directed by Luciano Corazza, is a combined effort of the University Extension and the Office of Student Affairs. High school students with grade point averages of 3.3 or better and letters of recommendation from teachers may enroll. They choose one class to attend four hours per day from July 1 through July 21.

Many UCSD graduate and undergraduate students are involved in the program.

“”The whole staff, with the exception of the site manager, is UCSD students,”” Corazza said.

Graduate students teach all eight classes and undergraduate teaching assistants help with labs and workshops.

Most of the classes available this year were science-related. When they enrolled, students chose from classes on cancer, cognitive science, computer science, marine biology, optics, influenza and writing.

“”We’re looking in the future to increase the number of humanities classes,”” Corazza said.

Corazza said that about 60 percent of the students are female.

“”Things are changing for young women,”” Corazza said. He said that he directed a similar program at Johns Hopkins University that enrolled mostly males.

The program provided rewards for the UCSD students involved as well as for the high school attendees.

Instructor Mark Wahrenbrock is a graduate student of pathology at the UCSD School of Medicine. He found out about the program in an e-mail message from Corazza, in which he asked for instructors of marine biology. Wahrenbrock proposed to Corazza a class on cancer.

“”When I realized he was giving me an opportunity to design, propose and teach a course, I was really excited,”” Wahrenbrock said.

Each morning, his students enter a small room in York Hall full of lab equipment that most biology majors do not see for years. The class uses a very hands-on approach to understanding cancer.

“”More than half of [the students] have been affected by cancer somewhere in their families,”” Wahrenbrock said. He said there was a very emotionally charged beginning to his class.

Graduate student Joe Summers teaches the class on optics. The 10 boys and one girl in the class learn about optics and circuits through a conceptual approach to engineering.

Summers said he is proud of his students and their progress.

“”Every night they have a study hall,”” he said. “”It makes me proud as a teacher.””

Matt Craig is a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is teaching the class, “”Life in the Underwater Forest.””

“”Down at Scripps, there’s not very much opportunity to teach,”” he said. “”It’s a great experience and I wish there were possibilities for more grad students to get involved teaching kids this age.””

His class, which consists of two hours of lecture in the morning and two hours of lab in the afternoon, is also primarily female students. It included an early-morning trip to the tide pools.

Craig said he has found the experience rewarding.

“”Interacting with young hopeful scientists has been the best part for me,”” Craig said. “”It doesn’t matter what I’m talking about, the kids are really interested and motivated to learn about it.””

Students in Craig’s class gave it rave reviews.

Michelle, a student from Los Gatos, Calif., likes the dedication of her classmates.

“”Everyone in the class came basically for the class,”” she said. “”The tide pooling wasn’t planned but everyone decided to get up early for it.””

Ally, a student from Phoenix, said, “”[The class] is so cool. Yesterday, we did dissection.””

Michelle added, “”We dissected a sea urchin and a squid.””

Shannon, from San Diego, is a student in the writing class, which has so far focused on point-of-view exercises.

“”I like class,”” she said, when asked about her favorite part of the program. “”That sounds really weird, but we have a really good time.””

Terrence, another student in the writing class, said he enjoys the workshopping aspect.

“”You get to learn a lot about other people,”” he said.

Ryan, also from Phoenix, is taking an engineering class on optics and circuits.

“”We’ve been learning about the basics: lasers, lights and holograms,”” he said.

The students experience other aspects of college life alongside their classes. Their very structured days include meals in Plaza Cafe and hall meetings in their residence halls.

Dining hall food is not always appreciated.

“”I was dissecting a muffin today, and I found a piece of cucumber,”” said Helen from Saratoga, Calif.

The students stay in Galathea, Atlantis and Beagle halls with resident program assistants, who are undergraduate students.

Rob Jones, a fourth-year Marshall student, found his job through Jobtrak.

“”This is 25 hours a day,”” he said of the job. “”These boys give me so much love.””

The job has included for Jones a five-hour trip to Kaiser Hospital. The RPAs are responsible for making sure the students study and keeping them content and busy in their time away from home with activities such as hacky sacking and sea kayaking.

This year, 15 percent of the students in the program received scholarships. Corazza’s goal is to eventually have 25 percent on scholarship. Corazza’s program exposes high school students to a level of education they do not normally receive in high school.

“”The university is where the future is developed,”” Corazza said. “”It is good to expose these kids to what is cooking at the university.””

The program provides a bridge to going away to college for the teenagers.

“”Even if they don’t latch onto [the material], at least they get a taste of what college is about,”” Summers said. “”College isn’t just about studying. It’s about social relationships.””

Academic Connections is built upon teaching real and useful knowledge relevant to students’ studies and careers.

“”I want them to be doing something that’s real, not something just made up for the kids,”” Corazza said.

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