ESSYI Scholarships Link Students, Nature – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

ESSYI Scholarships Link Students, Nature

Each summer at Hobart and William Smith, a select group of high school students attend the annual Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI), an interdisciplinary, college-level program that provides opportunities for hands-on, faculty-led classes, projects and research. For many ESSYI students, scholarships have played a significant part in their ability to attend the program.

The rigorous, two-week program gives high school juniors and seniors the chance to use HWS science laboratories and classrooms, explore Seneca Lake on the Colleges’ 65-foot William Scandling research vessel, take part in local outdoor science excursions and work on a four-day project in the Adirondack Mountains. Steeped in the liberal arts approach to learning, students explore humanities-, social sciences- and science-based questions about the environment, giving them an important academic opportunity well-ahead of their future collegiate experiences.

“What’s really unique about ESSYI is that it’s deeply connected to the liberal arts,” says Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster, the director of ESSYI. “Its foundation is in the liberal arts education at Hobart and William Smith, which gives the students an interdisciplinary view of environmental issues, while engaging them to solve real-world problems.”

MaKinster says ESSYI students arrive on campus from high schools across the United States and around the world. He says they are always a highly engaged group. After the graduates of ESSYI attend college, MaKinster says they have gone on to rewarding careers in all types of fields, from education and politics to environmental work and writing professions.

“They’re talented and ambitious – they’re as competitive as the most high-achieving students you’d find at any high school,” MaKinster says. “And what’s wonderful, is that they’re always just a really enjoyable group of students to work with.”

Founded in 1993, ESSYI annually hosts 30-35 students, many who attend the program thanks to scholarships provided by private foundations and public organizations. Since its inception, scholarships totaling more than $150,000 have been awarded through ESSYI – and as the program continues to receive wider recognition – it is seeking to expand its connections, both at the local and national levels. About three-quarters of the scholarships are reserved for minority students who are from traditionally underserved populations.

Recently, ESSYI scholarships are provided in partnership with a variety of organizations from a number of sources, including through the Christodora Foundation, the Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera high school in Spain; HWS in partnership with Murray Bergtraum High School in New York City; the HWS Finger Lakes Institute in partnership with New Jersey SEEDS; the HWS Geneva 2020 initiative; the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program; and The Schuler Scholar Program in Chicago.

The Christodora Foundation is a nonprofit organization offering environmental education and leadership training to motivated New York City public school students. SEEDS (Scholars, Educators, Excellence, Dedication, Success) is a nonprofit organization that prepares motivated, high-achieving, low-income students for admission to private schools and colleges across the nation. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program offers scholarship and educational support to exceptionally promising students from families across the nation who have financial need. Geneva 2020 is an effort to advance the Geneva City Schools through community partnerships with a specific focus on literacy, the graduation rate, and college/career readiness. The Schuler Scholar Program is a nonprofit organization outside of Chicago that prepares first-generation college-bound, under-resourced, high potential students to succeed at private colleges and universities.

During ESSYI 2014, scholarships totaling more than $35,000 were awarded to participants. The program welcomed 31 students from eight different states and two students from Spain. In 2013, there were 29 students from 12 states and participants representing China, Greece and Senegal.

Some high school students who participate in ESSYI have previous learning experiences on the HWS campus. Each summer, the Colleges host New Jersey SEEDS students for a program that enables them to take advanced academic courses and explore residential higher education. Ronni Denes, president of New Jersey SEEDS, says participating SEEDS students also get the opportunity to apply to ESSYI. Students with interests as wide ranging as environmental science, environmental justice, law and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers have joined the program.

“The ESSYI program has been wonderful for SEEDS students,” Denes says. “At a time when there is tremendous concern for the future of our planet, SEEDS students – largely from underserved communities – are thrilled to explore environmental issues in the exceptional facilities and surroundings of HWS.”

As longtime supporters of NJ SEEDS, HWS Trustee J. (Jay) Paul Hellstrom Jr. ’64 and his wife Linda Hellstrom, have helped to bridge and advance connections between the Colleges, ESSYI and SEEDS.

“ESSYI has a deep and meaningful impact on the lives of these young people,” Hellstrom says. “There is an additive, cumulative effect. Education and career development is an invaluable part of the equation. They are the building blocks for young people to go on and do great things in their lives.”

Back at HWS, MaKinster says it’s been amazing to see the impact the program has had over the years. She said just a few short weeks can prove to be transformative.

“You can see the change they can make in their own lives – personal and professionally – and the changes they can have on their communities and in the world,” MaKinster says.

Lara Thomas ’13, MAT’14, an earth science teacher at the Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver, Colo., says ESSYI served as an amazing launching point for her interest in science, particularly geoscience and environmental studies. Now she’s leveraging her passion for science to teach young people. She uses technology to bring nature into the classroom.

After her ESSYI experience, Thomas says she returned to her high school with a piqued interest and renewed motivation. “I was on fire when I got back to high school for my senior year,” she says. “I even became president of the Greens Team.” She says it’s important to share these topics with students before their college experience, and not assume that students will have had access to these opportunities.

“For me, when I was a high school student, I didn’t really have an interest in biology or chemistry, but once I saw that you can merge science with people’s lives, I realized science is awesome,” Thomas says. “I initially learned that through ESSYI. As a kid, that was the bridge I needed. Through ESSYI, I really began to understand that combination of science and people.”

For more information about ESSYI, visit the program website at For those interested in applying for the ESSYI 2015 session, visit ESSYI accepts applications on an ongoing, open enrollment basis. To request more information, visit:


In the first photo, high school students enrolled in the Colleges’ Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI) examine a solar panel as they learn about harnessing solar energy during a session taught by Professor of Economics Tom Drennen.

In the second photo, ESSYI students conduct research with Professor of Geoscience John Halfman abroad the Colleges’ 65-foot research vessel, the William Scandling.

The third photo features Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster, the director of ESSYI, has been involved in the program for 12 years. MaKinster’s teaching reflects his interests in science education, environmental issues, geospatial technology, the National Parks and science teacher professional development.

In the fourth photo, ESSYI students gather for a photo on the deck of the William Scandling following a special research project guided by Professor of Geoscience John Halfman.

The fifth photo features longtime supporters of NJ SEEDS, HWS Trustee J. (Jay) Paul Hellstrom Jr. ’64 and his wife Linda Hellstrom, have helped to bridge and advance connections between the Colleges, ESSYI and SEEDS.