For the past 16 summers, the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI) held at Hobart and William Smith Colleges has given rising high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to experience a taste of college-level academics. This two-week interdisciplinary program has been educating curious and talented students from across the country since Professor of Philosophy Scott Brophy founded it in 1993. Word of the ESSYI has become global, with a student from France participating last year and a student from Greece expected to participate this year.
The Institute runs from July 12 through 25 this summer and will make use of many campus facilities including classrooms, laboratories and The William Scandling, the Colleges’ 65-foot research vessel on Seneca Lake. ESSYI students will work closely with faculty members, conducting research in small groups. Research will also extend beyond campus to local streams, bogs and, through a four-day camping trip, the Adirondack Ecological Center in the Adirondack Mountains.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges are an institution based on the liberal arts philosophy that students benefit most from a general education that develops their rational thought and trains them to see the world from different points of view. The Institute operates on this same philosophy. The ESSYI curriculum incorporates a variety of disciplines because the belief is that environmental “solutions will not come from politicians or scientists alone.” Typical classroom sessions range in topic from Global Change, to Alternative Energy Sources, to Environmental and Social Justice, to Topographical Mapping and Watersheds.
“One of the primary goals of ESSYI is to get students to look at environmental studies with a liberal arts point of view,” explains Associate Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster, who is in his fourth year of directing ESSYI. She points out the focus of ESSYI is similar to that of an HWS first-year seminar, noting the curriculum of each seminar is intended to help students adjust to college by introducing them to academic expectations while stimulating curiosity in every aspect of their education.
The 19 faculty members who will be teaching within ESSYI this summer are from the biology, chemistry, economics, educations, environmental studies, history, geosciences, public policy, philosophy, literature, and art departments. This broad range of faculty allows students to “explore a range of topics in environmental policy, economics, and ethics, and come to see the natural world through the eyes of artists, historians, philosophers, policy analysts, and scientists.”
The focus of this year’s program will be on three resources – food, water and energy. MaKinster explains that the program has evolved over the years in the context of cultural shifts. While in past years, a focus of the program has been on introducing the little-known concept of environmental sustainability to ESSYI students, in the current age of “going green,” environmental sustainability is a topic of discussion in many communities. Therefore, the ESSYI faculty members are putting environmental sustainability up front this year for a group of students they believe are entering with an idea of what sustainability means for the environment.
With students coming from a diverse range of backgrounds, MaKinster wants them all to retain two main messages from the program. “I want them to understand and appreciate the value of their personal perspective. I want them to see how valuable their perspective is in any conversation,” she explains.
Secondly, she hopes that the program taught by college professors on a college campus will help them see what opportunities they can have in college. Typically two to four students who participate in ESSYI each summer ultimately attend HWS after high school.
Upon completion of the program, students receive college credit determined by their overall participation and academically-focused journals that they keep over the two-week span. Scholarships are offered to qualified students.