CLEMSON — Jennifer Iacono’s first few minutes in Clemson’s Summer Scholars program weren’t ideal. Her parents had just dropped her off and they assumed their eighth-grader would embrace the university’s annual program that allows middle and high school students to get an early sense of what the college experience is all about.
She waited until their car was out of sight, and then she cried.
The tears shed weren’t over academics; Iacono was fascinated by STEM fields, and she was genuinely intrigued by the courses she would experience during Summer Scholars. She cried because she thought an introvert like her had no chance of surviving a weeklong, overnight camp where she knew no one.
“It’s hard to believe now that I reacted that way, but the counselors were so great and really got me into the whole experience very quickly,” Iacono said. “Flash forward a couple of days and I’m ordering pizza in a dorm room full of new friends. The whole experience really prepared me for college in more ways than one.”
Summer Scholars will run for eight weeks this summer starting June 2 and offer a wide variety of courses, from Professional Golf Management to Exploring Mammalian Cell Culture. Camille Swanson, director of Summer Scholars, said the program has increased the number of courses it offers to add variety.
“When students and parents take a look at what we have to offer we want them to get a sense of just how many possibilities there are across the many departments at Clemson University,” Swanson said. “From the hard sciences to the humanities, the program has grown to offer something for everyone.”
Iacono later received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and minored in biological sciences at Clemson. She now works as a guest programs team specialist at the Georgia Aquarium and says that Summer Scholars influenced her course of study through Clemson.
During her Summer Scholars experiences over several years of high school, Iacono took courses in robotics, genetics, biomedical engineering and biology, which helped her zero in on the major and minor that were right for her. She got an early preview of the look and feel of a college classroom and practical advice from professors on the real-world applications of STEM in the workplace.
“The way I looked at it, I could test out my interests without the risk of wasting time once I got to college,” Iacono said. “I even knew some of the professors from Summer Scholars once I started my freshman year, so that was just another level of comfort that the program added once I got to college.”
Just as Iacono engaged in the program over several years, many Clemson faculty members also return to Summer Scholars again and again. Claire Dancz, a faculty member in Clemson’s engineering and science education department, will lead courses in civil engineering for the fourth year in a row during this year’s program.
Dancz says that while it takes work to develop courses for a weeklong format, it is valuable for faculty to continually re-imagine exploration in their subject area for students that are just getting started. She says the value for students is in how the program reduces the “fear factor” and builds their confidence academically and socially.
“The students truly make my summer,” Dancz says. “I’ve seen students transform from hesitant observers to active participants in my classroom, and to me that is truly exciting. The value of this program is found in the support of students discovering their passion.”
Course work is only part of the day for participants; the program also provides recreational and cultural elements as a “sneak preview” of college life. Free time to explore the campus or meet representatives from Admissions or the Honors College are built into the week’s schedule.
Evenings feature many of the recreational activities Clemson students enjoy, including time at Fike Recreation Center and a cookout on the beach at Hartwell Lake. Participants stay in a residence hall and eat meals in a dining hall throughout the week to complete their on-campus experience. Clemson students serve as counselors to guide, mentor and answer questions about life at Clemson.
As the program’s current director as well as former participant and counselor, Swanson is well-versed in just how much the week provides for youth.
“I’ve witnessed so many young people get the most out of this program for years now, so I am honored to now get to oversee the program for a future generation of college students,” Swanson said, “and, of course, we hope they all end up being Tigers.”
The Summer Scholars Program is housed in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, which is part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences. For more information on Summer Scholars, program offerings and enrollment information, click here or contact Camille Swanson (firstname.lastname@example.org, 864-656-2314).
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