College 101 for teenagers

This month a dozen or so Philadelphia high school students will participate in a mock trial at Penn Law. Another group will study and handle human brains and a third will create and teach an educational project to younger students. The teens will be on campus for five weeks as part of a new initiative created by the Philadelphia School District in partnership with Penn’s Office of the Provost.

While Penn has several high school mentorship programs in its different schools, this one stands out, says Executive Director to the Provost Lois Chiang. “While there are wonderful benefits with running outreach programs during the academic year,” says Chiang, “this really takes advantage of five weeks in the summer where we have the space and time to give an intense academic experience to students on campus.”

Students were selected for the Summer Mentorship Program based on their academic record and potential, as well as how much they stood to benefit from the program. Targeted at 10th and 11th graders, the month-long session—which offers a stipend of $460—is aimed particularly at students who are economically disadvantaged. The program is intended to inspire them to apply to college and to see it as an achievable goal.

Response to the program has been enthusiastic, with three or four applicants for each of the 36 spots. Students accepted into the program can choose between medicine, law or education as their area of focus, though once a week all the students will come together for more general sessions on academic life.

Students in the law program will spend time reading case law, working through the elements of a particular case, conducting legal research and working in a moot courtroom on a mock trial. Field trips will take the students to courthouses and various different legal practice settings.

Jo-Ann Verrier, vice dean for administrative services at Penn Law, says it’s less about training future lawyers and more about opening their eyes to possibilities. “I hope they’ll take away a renewed sense of confidence in their own ability to reach out to the opportunities that are ahead for them. That may be in law, but it may be in another field. We want to help them expand their skills and competence levels.”

Originally published on July 6, 2006