Pre-college programs open doors for leadership roles

Students with paddleboard

High school students prepare to test the seaworthiness of a hand-painted paddleboard they designed in the Engineering Summer Program — one of many summer residential programs offered through University Housing.

Original article by Jim Dayton, University Communications
Photos: Joel Ninmann

Aug. 4, 2014

Whether their connections were social, academic or professional, former participants in UW-Madison's summer residence programs through University Housing say the camps were essential for creating future opportunities.

Filling an array of interests, the UW's pre-college programs cater to a variety of age groups and vary in length, ranging from several days to a full summer. In addition to teaching academic subject material, the camps give elementary through high school students a sense of independence before they head off to college, including living in UW-Madison residence halls.

Alex Morgan, a former camper with the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), says the program helped her explore leadership options and become more involved once she enrolled at the UW.

"I loved my time in WCATY because I learned more about my strengths, how to make decisions and (how to) motivate myself, because my parents weren't there telling me what to do," Morgan says.

Students with paddleboard WCATY offers a variety of programs for gifted students, and its camps have intense curricula to prepare youth for the next levels of education.

Morgan has returned to WCATY, spending the past two summers as a resident assistant. She is not the first of the center's alumni to come back to help. Andrew Wolfgram, who spent five summers at WCATY, has since remained involved with the center in a variety of roles.

While enrolled as an undergraduate student at the UW, Wolfgram took on a part-time job as an office assistant and became an educational assistant to the program, helping teach physics and anatomy. Later on, he worked as a head resident assistant and interacted with parents and instructors as a site coordinator.

Wolfgram is even taking a week off from work this month to instruct a class for WCATY. "The instructors and staff tapped into my potential as a subject expert," Wolfgram says. "It's interesting now to find out about the abilities and knowledge of these young students."

Programs are also offered to students with more specialized interests. High school juniors- and seniors-to-be, particularly those from underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, are eligible for the Engineering Summer Program (ESP). The six-week program includes a challenging, diverse curriculum of math, science, technical communications and engineering. It also provides hands-on experiences for budding engineers, such as designing — and testing, naturally — paddleboards.

Meanwhile, young students preparing to apply for college can enroll in the College Access Program (CAP) to better acclimate themselves with the application process. The three-week program caters to ethnically underrepresented high school students who would be the first in their families to attend college. It also provides math, writing and career development workshop sessions.

"I wasn't sure that I could get accepted at UW-Madison, so I attended the College Access Program, which built my confidence and a support system," says UW student Alaa Fleifel. "It provided a great networking opportunity that also gave me a letter of recommendation for my summer job and linked me to campus resources."

After Fleifel was admitted to the UW, she lived in the Bradley Learning Community at Bradley Hall, where she was connected with supportive house fellows and given a mentor. A junior in the fall, Fleifel will serve as a house fellow herself this year and hopes to attend law school in the future.

While CAP offers a general overview of college academics and student life, programs like the Summer Science Institute (SSI) focus on specific fields of study. SSI, a six-week biology research program, teaches high school students how to write and present a research paper.

"It helped a lot because now I have a little bit more confidence writing science papers when the time does come," says UW student Daniel Rodriguez, who's studying kinesiology and previously attended the program.

While Rodriguez, a sophomore this fall, enjoyed the academic aspects of SSI, he says his favorite part was adjusting to life away from home and meeting new people. Additionally, he credits the experience with helping him land a research job at a UW genetics lab this summer.

"I wish there were more programs like that on every college campus," Rodriguez says.