Collegiate Scholars Program creates confident, prepared critical thinkers who are off to collegeBy Julia Morse
Forty-three Collegiate Scholars, who have been exposed to and immersed in academic life at the University during the past year, have emerged from their experiences bound for college.
The Class of 2007 of the University’s Collegiate Scholars Program will attend some of the country’s top institutions in the fall. Those include Boston University, Carleton College, Spelman College, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California, The Juilliard School, Wellesley College, Duke University and Chicago, where six graduating Collegiate Scholars will be enrolled.
One of those six students is Jennie Vazquez, a 2007 graduate of John F. Kennedy High School.
“Without Collegiate Scholars, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to apply to the University of Chicago,” said Vazquez. “The program opened my eyes academically and allowed me to see that I did have what it takes to apply here—and to get accepted.”
Vazquez said she looks forward to studying political science, but that she also would like to explore several different areas of study before choosing a concentration.
“Collegiate Scholars really made me excited about what the College will be like,” she added, noting that she also is participating in the University’s Chicago Academic Achievement program, an enrichment program offered annually to incoming first-year students who could benefit from preparation for their College experience.
During the summer before their senior year of high school, the Collegiate Scholars participated in the college preparatory workshops and mentoring sessions, which are led by University graduate students and teaching assistants. “The College Countdown course especially helped me, not only with my applications, but in getting ready for the transition from high school academics to college academics.”
Beyond the classroom, it is the relationships Vazquez formed through the Collegiate Scholars Program that she calls her “favorite part” of her experience.
“I met amazing people and made really strong friendships,” she said.
Kim Ransom, Director of the Collegiate Scholars Program, said, “As each graduating class leaves us, I see how we have really built a family here. These students are doing wonderful things. I am so very proud of them.”
Established at Chicago in 2003 for Chicago Public Schools students, the Collegiate Scholars Program receives more than 600 applications every year from high school ninth graders. Only about 50 students each from sophomore, junior and senior high school classes are accepted into the program. Approximately 150 students are currently enrolled.
“These students are the best of the best—they are brilliant and so special,” Ransom said, noting the value of the small size of the program. “Personal involvement with our students is so important to the success of Collegiate Scholars.”
Throughout the school year, the teens participate in academic programs, classes and tutoring workshops on weekends, and are invited to attend cultural events periodically throughout the week. Additionally, the students regularly participate in community service programs throughout the city.
Allen Linton, a 2007 Collegiate Scholars graduate and a Morgan Park High School alumnus, who also will enroll in the College this fall, said the thing he most fondly recalls about the program is the variety of cultural experiences to which he was exposed.
“We learned about the history of other cultures, different languages, art, literature, dance, everything,” Linton said. “I loved all of that very much.”
One activity Linton said would be with him always happened during his first year as a Collegiate Scholar when the students attended a Native American powwow.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life,” he said, recalling learning Native American dance and song, and discussing the struggles the culture faces even today.
At Chicago, Linton hopes to be a political science concentrator and credits the Collegiate Scholars Program for his enrollment in the College.
“The program allowed me to get a sense of campus and what the academic expectations will be, which ultimately helped me choose the University of Chicago,” he said.
The aspect of academic life that Linton said he is most looking forward to is the small, intimate College classes.
“Critical thinking in these small classes, where students can discuss subjects in-depth, often without the professor speaking for 10 or 20 minutes, is what makes whatever we are studying truly real to us,” Linton said. “This is something I think you cannot find anywhere else.”
For Katherine Schnakenberg, a 2007 graduate of Von Steuben High School, it is the array of languages available for study at Chicago that excites her most about enrolling in the College.
“I am extremely interested in studying language in the College,” Schnakenberg said. “The University of Chicago has so much to offer, and I’m really excited to find out what all of it is.”
She added, “Collegiate Scholars opened up so many channels of information about the college process and allowed us to get a deeper look at what the University had to offer. It was a really important experience for us.”
The other three 2007 Collegiate Scholars graduates who will be first-years in the College this fall are Muamera Hadzic, Michelle High and David Velasco.
The newest class enrolled in the program arrived on campus in early June. In addition to their summer course load, the students also share meals together and enjoy extracurricular outings throughout the summer. Those include trips to White Sox baseball games, attending shows at Second City and visits to local museums.
Ransom noted that the incoming class of Collegiate Scholars has access to an expanded curriculum. In the past, students chose one or two summer courses either in math, science or humanities—beginning with this year’s students, one course in each area of study will be required.
“Expanding our curriculum will better prepare students for the academic rigor they will face in college,” Ransom said, adding that at the May graduation ceremony for the Collegiate Scholars Class of 2007, she heard one student say that, “It was so nice to be in an environment where it was cool to be smart.”
This summer, the Collegiate Scholars have the opportunity to take classes from 10 University professors and four Ph.D. students.
“The students tell me that our program opened their eyes to a whole new world—and really, that’s our goal,” Ransom said. “They are a diverse group of athletes, artists, musicians, mathematicians, scientists and writers who will certainly make a great impact on our world.”