For three weeks every summer, a group of advanced high school students from around the world come to Penn’s campus to study. They live like real college students: learning from University professors, studying at Van Pelt Library, and eating in Houston Hall. They receive a PennCard, a Penn email address, and have access to state-of-the-art labs. Some even stay on campus, sleeping in the Quadrangle dormitories.
It’s because of Penn Summer Academies, which is administered by the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS), that rising ninth, 10th, and 11th graders are exposed to academically rigorous programs, including biomedical research, chemistry research, mathematics, neuroscience, and social justice research.
“It’s a chance for students to come in and explore their passions,” says Eli Lesser, director of non-degree and summer programs for the College of Liberal & Professional Studies. “Think about students that are 15 and want to be a doctor, physicist, or chemist. This is an exciting way to give them a taste of what that might look like.”
Penn Summer Academies began nearly two decades ago. It’s a non-credit program with a set tuition rate for participants, some hailing from as far as Thailand. Each academy varies in size from about 30 up to 100 students.
In 2011, SAS expanded the program by offering a special scholarship arm, Penn Summer Scholars.
Penn Summer Scholars gives academically exceptional Philadelphia public and charter high school students a tuition-free opportunity to participate in the Academies. Eligible students must have a minimum 3.3 high school GPA and receive Title I funding, as verified by a school principal or administrator.
Ten percent of the seats in the Academies program are reserved for Penn Summer Scholars. This summer, because of the Academies’ growth, there will be about 35 scholars accepted. Last year there were 27.
“We’re able to impact our local community through providing this opportunity to those who may not have the means to otherwise do it,” says Lesser. “And because there are 25 countries represented, there’s also a global impact. We live in a globalized world, so all these students are going to see each other again. We’re providing an early start for them to begin collaborating, getting to know each other, and learning from each other.”
Most scholars, says Lauren More, manager of summer sessions programs, “have done exceedingly well in the programs,” and proceed into the academic year Young Scholars Program, another SAS program, allowing local high school students to take courses alongside Penn students and earn full college credit, free of charge.
“These programs give high school students a chance to learn about the college environment in hopes that it would help them determine whether or not college is an appropriate fit for them, what it’s all about, and how to interact socially and academically,” says More.
This year’s Academies program begins on July 5, and runs through July 22. Students will be in classes or in labs from 9 a.m. until about 5 p.m. They also will take relative field trips. The physics program, for instance, takes a trip to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum to talk about momentum, and to Hershey Park to measure the velocity of roller coasters.
The neuroscience academy is brand-new this year, says Lesser, and is being run by faculty from the Biological Basis of Behavior Program.
“Our faculty are really excited about putting these high school students knee-deep into undergraduate labs using the new integrated sciences [Stephen A. Levin] building,” Lesser says.
The mathematics academy is new this year, too. Lesser says that, looking ahead, SAS hopes to add more academies to the program.