ehold one of academes ironies: that it the shrine of knowledge calls upon pilgrims to start on the journey toward enlightenment in a state of near-ignorance. From a fog of impressions, peer pressure and well-meaning adult advice, many thousand college-bound seniors each winter take a leap of faith as to what theyll study and where, choices likely to shape the rest of their lives.
And this at age 16 or 17, mind you: not a time of life noted for measured reason and judicious self-knowledge.
Even the most enterprising high schoolers e-consumers par excellence can only skim the surface, point-and-clicking around college Web sites, sending away for glossy brochures or curling up with Petersons Guides, Princeton Reviews and Gourman Reports. In the end, theres no substitute for first-hand experience.
So thats what Lynn Goodnight gives them. As director of USCs Summer and Special Programs Office, Goodnight working with associate director Steve Foral has arranged for hundreds of teens to test-drive the Trojan experience well ahead of the application deadline for undergraduate admission.
The flagship program of her office is Summer Seminars a cluster of intensive, residential college-level courses geared for academically motivated high schoolers.
Classes meet at least five hours a day, five days a week, she says. We cover the same number of course-hours in one month as a regular undergraduate class does in a semester. Then we add labs and rehearsals that can go into the night, field trips that can run on weekdays or weekends, plus regular study hall hours.
In its fourth year, Summer Seminars brought 112 juniors and seniors to USC last July, treating them to a realistic slice of freshman life. Housed on six floors in Pardee Tower, the students ate their meals in North Halls cafeteria, studied in Leavey Library, attended labs and classes taught by USC faculty and, in their free time, went on organized excursions or had the run of the University Park Campus.
Over a four-week term, the kids glutted themselves on a single subject last summers menu featured a choice of seminars in theater, engineering, art and architecture, biomedical science, media and politics, film criticism, animation, screenwriting, choral music, journalism and dance.
Each class had fewer than 20 students.
The tab: $3,200 a bargain, when you consider it included 3 units of USC college credit along with room, board, books, lab fees, recreation and supervision.
By the end, these teenagers werent just 3 units closer to a bachelors degree in the field of their dreams. Theyd gained priceless insight into what that field may hold, what college life at USC feels like and crucially whether one or both are a good fit.
requently, of course, some part of the experience pinches. The screenwriting seminar, for example, is known for deflating egos. The course tends to attract self-professed wunderkinds who show up with a script and an attitude, according to Foral, who serves as director of Summer Seminars. Theyre like: Wheres George Lucas? Lets make this thing! Foral says with a chuckle. But once USC School of Cinema-Television instructor Ron Friedman, who has several Emmy and Writers Guild nominations to his credit, finishes with these juvenile auteurs, they rarely swagger. Foral recalls one kid from the 1999 group, down-hearted after receiving his first critique. I thought I could write, the youth confided. Today I found out I cant write crap. The student, now a college freshman, went on to major in writing, no worse for the exercise in humility.
Its fun to watch, says Foral, who lives in the dorm for the duration of the summer program. The kids are learning about themselves and their talents. Some, he observes, find that what they thought would be a career is instead a hobby. Others arrive thinking a subject is fun, and leave realizing its what they want to do for a living.
Along the way, many develop an interest in attending USC. Then we direct them over to [dean of admissions] Joe Allens office, says Foral, smiling.
Whether an affirmation or a rude awakening, the lessons learned in Summer Seminars tend to go deeper than students or parents expect. For a kid to come away from a four-week institute with some kind of life-direction thats profound, he says.
Sitting in a workshop in Watt Hall on a hot July afternoon, 17-year-old Tommy Morales of San Francisco is arranging wood blocks, dowels and bits of particle board in a complex design. As he glues these miniature building materials to a wooden base a scaled-down model of a park where an artwork is to be displayed Morales talks languidly about this assignment for his seminar, Art and Architecture: A Study in Interrelated Concepts.
I chose an artist [Bauhaus color theorist] Joseph Albers. The painting is that big, he says, pointing to a postage stamp-sized canvas affixed to a wall no larger than a credit card. For two weeks, he and his classmates have been experimenting with architecture, graphic design and fine art under the aegis of Victor Jones, a leading architect who teaches in the USC School of Architecture, and Brian Olson, exhibit designer at USCs Fisher Gallery and an instructor in the USC School of Fine Arts.
The experience for Morales has been reassuring. A high school senior, he plans to apply to USC this fall: Im kind of leaning toward architecture as my major, he says as he deftly tilts tiny roofs on his model.
The course has also confirmed something for 15-year-old Stephanie Henzel of Mission Viejo, Calif. I learned that I can actually do it if I apply myself, she says. Ive always been into Legos and tinker toys, and this is a more grown up version of it. Its pretty cool. I can do it!
Classmate Ani Galyan, a senior from Burbank, Calif., isnt so sure. She stares uncertainly at her model, a solid wall facing two teetering columns. Shes not enjoying this assignment. I built it, then I tore it down, and now Im trying to come up with a new idea, she says. I dont know what Im doing, she admits. Anis recalcitrant columns collapse. She giggles nervously. As if in sympathy, a wall of Stephanies Z-shaped model topples a moment later.
SC is undeniably a newbie in the pre-college summer programming market. Until recently, you could count the universitys offerings on the fingers of one hand a swim camp, a youth football camp, a summer workshop in cinema production, a residential architecture seminar. Sporadically, a new program would crop up, only to wither from neglect the following year.
That changed in 1998, when Provost Lloyd Armstrong Jr. recruited Lynn Goodnight. A veteran program builder from Northwestern, Goodnight ran that universitys summer academies so successfully that the Evanston, Ill. campus now has no vacancies from June to September (3,200 beds are filled nearly every night). Armstrong himself had come to USC in 1993 from Johns Hopkins University, another institution noted for a fine pre-college summer program.
USCs unfilled dorms presented a tantalizing challenge to Goodnight, in stark contrast with maxed-out Northwestern, where there was no room for further innovation. I dont like doing the same thing over and over and over, she says. After 13 years at Northwestern, the campus was full. We had no more classroom space, no more dorm space, and wed been in that position for three summers.
Arriving at USC, Goodnight produced a five-year plan that has since become the working draft for her operation. In just three years, she has made breathtaking strides: Summer Seminars which has grown by 20 percent each year and will eventually top off at 250 students is just one of four academic enrichment programs she offered last summer. The others are:
The USC Young Actors Summer Theatre Workshop, a four-week day camp that now serves about 30 kids but will eventually grow to accommodate up to 150
The USC Annenberg School for Communications National Debate Institute which, in its second year, brought 28 aggressive competitors from across the country for two- and three-week training sessions with top coaches, and
The Summer Science Program for Middle School Girls on Catalina Island, a weeklong sleep-away program for 30 girls at USCs Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.
Goodnight also kicked off the Inside-Outside Basketball Camp, a new program intended for hard-core competitive athletes who want off-season training with USC coaches. Mens basketball coaches Henry Bibby and Paul Mokeski ran the weeklong program for 54 high-school hoops starters.
While USCs empty classrooms and residence halls certainly were crying out to be filled, university administrators knew there was much more to be gained from these programs than untapped revenues. In line with President Steven B. Samples aggressive push to attract the best and the brightest undergraduates a goal that shows ongoing progress after three years of record-breaking freshman GPAs and SAT scores pre-college summer programs provide a way to tap academically promising youths early. Every reputable institution now recognizes that summer programs are probably one of the most cost-effective ways to recruit top students, says Goodnight, quickly adding that the sports camps dont recruit in any sense that would violate NCAA rules.
You get a kid on your campus for three or four weeks, and theyve developed an attachment to your institution.
Pre-college summer programs conveniently met another of Samples objectives promoting USC as a year-round destination by creating a sense of activity, the sense of a place to come, in the words of executive vice provost Michael Diamond. There are lots of things the campus has to offer, especially in the summer, he says. This is a campus we are proud of. Lets bring some kids here.
Goodnight has done just that, though her unqualified success disguises the difficulty of the task. She and Foral had barely bid farewell to this years students when they were hard at work building next summers program. Their first information pieces go out to schools in November; their catalog is in the mail by January; and the spring is spent in a combination of marketing and fine-tuning the programs. USC must compete for summer enrollments not just regionally (about half of the students currently come from the Southland) but across the country. Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Duke, Michigan, Iowa, Texas, Ohio State, Illinois, Colorado, Wash-ington, Washington State: the list of schools with established pre-college summer programs goes on and on.
Asked how big this market is, Goodnight thumps a phonebook-sized volume on her desk: Petersons Guide to Summer Opportunities for Kids and Teenagers. The comprehensive directory contains more than 2,500 domestic and international program listings.
Far from daunted, Goodnight is exhilarated at the prospect of guiding USC into this uncharted territory. With many prior dibs on conference space and with sporadic dorm closures for regular maintenance creating a maze of housing black-out periods, the actual bedspace available on the University Park Campus is a moving target (we would never put a pre-collegiate program in off-campus housing, she stipulates). Once the construction of USCs new Internationally Themed Residential College is completed, Diamond guestimates that summer pre-college enrollments might one day top off at around 1,500. But, he insists, Im not as concerned about numbers as I am about quality both academically and in terms of our hospitality. Because what we really want these kids to do is come back, whether as students or visitors.