Networking high-schoolers connect to University

By Jen Glickel

Three years ago, the University of Chicago Collegiate Scholars Program (CSP) was created in an effort to strengthen the University’s relationship with the Chicago public schools.

The stimulus for the program’s creation was the scarcity of Chicago public school students applying to the University of Chicago. Collegiate Scholars Program Director Kim Ransom explained that although many bright students emerge from the Chicago public school system, they do not apply to Ivy League or other top universities. The CSP is both a scholarship program and an intensive three-year college preparation summer program, designed for talented Chicago public school students finishing the ninth grade. The program chooses 50 to 70 academically talented ninth graders in the Chicago public school system to experience pre-college and college life in the form of college-level classes, college counseling, SAT preparation, seminars, and cultural events—all for free.

Gaining acceptance to the CSP is no easy feat: the program’s acceptance rate was just shy of 13 percent in 2003 and was 10 percent in 2004. In 2003, there were 78 students in the program and in 2004 there were 58 new students, compounded with the returning 78. Students must go through a formal application process, similar to that of the college admissions process, providing grades, test scores, an essay, and recommendations simply to get an interview. The interview is seen as a “make or break” criterion, in which CSP administrators examine a student’s personality, capabilities, academic enthusiasm, and career goals.

Once accepted, students can take advantage of the University of Chicago’s academic and social world. Students have an orientation period at the beginning of the summer quarter in which they get a taste of dorm life by staying in the Max Palevsky residence halls. They take a variety of classes taught by University professors, some of which have been created specifically for the CSP and some of which are the University’s summer classes, in which CSP students learn side-by- side with U of C students. This summer, CSP students could take such courses as economics, geology, documentary filmmaking, computer science, number theory, advanced calculus, and black women’s political activism.

When the students were not in class, the CSP provided them with cultural- enrichment activities like bowling trips, a Shakespeare performance on the Lakefront, and an interactive martial arts demonstration. Students also attended seminars and lectures, such as one lecture given by James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered the double helix structure of DNA.

11th-grade CSP student Peter Cole has only positive sentiments toward the program. “The Collegiate Scholars Program has done nothing but help me, both in preparing for college and gaining a focus in my learning,” he said. “The courses help us better understand college classes and the differences between them and high school, as well as how to prepare for the courses.”

This summer, Peter took an entrepreneurship course at the Graduate School of Business. The class had rotating professors, so he learned ten unusual perspectives about business from ten of the University’s business professors, an experience that he considers to be invaluable. This summer, 17 students like Peter took college-level courses, taught by University professors, and received college credit.

The CSP provides a strong support system for the students during both the summer and the school year. “The counselors respect our needs and tend to our questions,” Peter said. “They help us decide on colleges to look at, subjects to concentrate on, and habits and techniques to apply to our learning both during the summer and back in high school.”

During the academic school year, CSP provides support for its students through enrichment classes taught on Saturdays. These classes include SAT preparation, as well as math and writing classes. The program also runs arts and culture and community service programs for students throughout the school year.

Kim Ransom sees the program’s lasting effect on students as a great one. “They’ll be ready to compete at some of the top schools at the country, not only academically, but socially—they’ll be a part of that pulse,” she said. “They’ll leave here understanding what it means to be an avid lover of learning, especially in the liberal arts education.”

As for the CSP’s effect on the University, Ransom feels that the CSP students bring an element of diversity to the school. She emphasizes the value of the union between the Chicago public schools and the University of Chicago. “These students bring a lot of life to the University, to the classrooms, and to the academic discussions here,” she commented. “To the same token, the University is undoubtedly bringing a lot to these students.”

Although CSP students are not yet of the age to apply to college, the CSP’s impact can already be seen from an admissions standpoint. Before the program’s inception, between 20 and 25 students from the Chicago public school system entered the University of Chicago each year. In the last two years, that number has risen to 40 students. CSP’s goal is to recruit students to attend the University in a few years.

Ultimately, the program’s success can only be gauged by what its students take away from their summers at the University. For Peter Cole, the CSP did the trick: “I do not think I could have been prepared for college if I had not been accepted into the Collegiate Scholars Program.”