Five years ago, Professor of Chemistry Walter Bowyer was looking for someone to fund a summer program he wished to develop on the HWS campus. He wanted to encourage high school students of color to maintain interest in science, and pursue scientific studies in college. However, what started as an idea for those interested in science expanded into a program designed to encourage students of color interested in all areas of academia to pursue a college career.
While searching for financing in 2005, Bowyer was put in contact with former trustee Horace Allen ’85 about supporting the Summer Academy. Allen is the founder and CEO of LegacyCreators, an organization created to address the retention and graduation challenges that young Black and Latino men face in college. He was eager to help.
While Bowyer and Allen came from different backgrounds, both saw the challenges confronting promising students of color, and both shared the common goal of helping these students succeed. Though the Summer Academy is now funded through the Geneva Initiative, which seeks to foster positive connections between HWS and Geneva schools, Allen still visits each year to speak with students about continuing their education.
“Horace Allen is very charismatic and can really motivate students. He has the great ability to truly connect with these students,” says Bowyer.
The Summer Academy attracts 12 of the most talented and ambitious students of color from Geneva High School to HWS for two weeks of intensive course work. Students are nominated by Geneva High School counselors.
“We want to provide a program that is both fun and rigorous,” explains Bowyer.
Each morning, students attend classes ranging from Architecture to English. “Our professors come in with great ideas, and I simply have to ask them: What do you want to do?” says Bowyer of the HWS faculty members who instruct the students each summer. “They’re so enthusiastic and creative.” This year, faculty included Associate Professor of English Laurence Erussard, Assistant Professor of English Karl Parker, and Instuctor of Philosophy Rodmon King.
HWS students also contribute to curriculum and provide an opportunity for the students to connect with their peers. Jaheem Green ’12 joined the academy this summer, teaching Slam Poetry, which students performed as part of final presentations given to friends and parents in the faculty dining room. Green taught the students that any action or motion can be seen as art.
“The kids wrote amazing poems,” says Green, “They were willing and ready to learn, and they were great at understanding poetry and using their feelings creatively.” Ultimately, the students taught Green, who felt more prepared to fulfill his upcoming role as dance instructor at the Boys & Girls Club in Geneva.
In afternoons, students enjoy laboratory work and excursions. This year, a physics lab provided education and entertainment as the students, instructed by Assistant Professor of Physics Pasad Kulatunga, built a battery-free radio made of simple materials similar to those constructed during WWII.
The program also included a lab aboard the Colleges’ research vessel, The William Scandling, where the students tested the chemistry of the water and mud, and learned about the glaciers that formed the Finger Lakes. Another afternoon was spent at the courthouse in Rochester, where students saw the legal system in action by observing a felonies court. Other trips included visits to the Steward House and the Harriet Tubman house, providing the students with a well-rounded, interdisciplinary experience.
However, the ultimate goal of the Summer Academy is to prove that enjoyment and learning go hand in hand in a college environment. “We want the students to see college as a place where they belong, can succeed, and be happy,” says Bowyer.
The program ran June 28 through July 9 on the Hobart and William Smith campus.