By Judy West
People new to Penn are often surprised at how busy the campus remains over the summer months. Lines at the Magic Carpet food truck still put off all but the most devoted fans. College Green is still home to impromptu Frisbee games and tanning sessions. And just try getting an outdoor table at University Square around noon on a balmy day.
If you’ve been at Penn awhile, you probably take these summer crowds in stride, but you may have noticed the faces getting younger in recent years. That’s because many of our summer visitors are high school students taking part in the increasingly popular programs on offer through the School of Arts and Science’s College of General Studies.
“ There’s a huge interest in specialized programs,” says Rosalie Guzofsky, CGS’s director of professional programs and summer sessions. “Students are coming from more places and from further afield, and more of them are wanting to live on campus.” The rising high school juniors and seniors come to Penn for advanced instruction in the sciences and fine arts. This year, the University will host around 360 young learners over two sessions, with two thirds of the students living on campus, in the Quad.
The science academies are the big draw, according to Guzofsky. Penn has offered a program in physics for almost a decade, and two years ago it introduced a biomedical research option. Demand for the latter has been so strong that capacity has had to be increased, says Guzofsky. “Many of the 16- or 17-year-old students are already thinking about going to medical school, and they see this kind of program as necessary to make them better candidates.”
Over the years, the physics program has developed a “wonderfully committed group from the Physics Department,” says Associate Dean and Assistant Director of Summer Sessions John Krebs. “They invite two high school teachers to come in and teach, too, so it presents an opportunity to influence the high school teaching of physics.”
Taking care of these youngsters on campus means striking a delicate balance. “We try to offer a simulation of the university experience at the same time recognizing that they’re minors,” says Guzofsky. “They learn to use their time effectively, and they have to be independent academically as well as socially.” Penn students serve as resident counselors and role models.
For Penn faculty, says Guzofsky, teaching high school students can be a welcome change of pace. Not only are the students motivated and well prepared, she says, they also bring a “fresh eye” to class.
Many of the students who take the summer academies, which compete with similar programs at Yale, Harvard and Brown, go on to apply to Penn, and a substantial number are admitted, says Guzofsky. “We’re continually amazed at how high-achieving these students are. They give teenagers a good name.”
Originally published on July 8, 2004