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Scholarship lets rural students bloom at Summer College

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Caitlyn Secondo, Logan Roberts and Ashley Sullivan
Jason Koski/University Photography
From left: high schoolers Caitlyn Secondo, Logan Roberts and Ashley Sullivan take a break from their Summer College classes, outside Olin Library.

A record number of high school students from 40 countries and 500 cities around the world are taking college classes at Cornell’s Summer College this year.

But a handful of those who might benefit the most are from right down the road.

For the first time, Summer College has awarded scholarships to 11 high-achieving, low-income students from small towns near Ithaca, through the college’s Rural Scholarship Initiative.

Logan Roberts of Groton, New York, is one of them.

“Cornell’s only 20 minutes from where I live. But when I come here, I’m exposed to so much more than at home,” he said. “It’s great, because it opens my eyes up in ways that aren’t possible in Groton.”

For example, he’s met a Middle Eastern student from Norway who attends an international school where classes are taught in English. “It’s that combination of cultures that’s really interesting to me,” Roberts said. “I don’t see any of that in my day-to-day life.”

Summer College hosted 1,500 high school students in July and August, where they took three- and six-week credit-bearing undergraduate classes on topics ranging from “Green Cities and Sustainable Futures” to “Animal Science: Captive Raptor Management.” The program, part of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, gives high school students a taste of the college experience.

For years, Summer College has worked with community partners that have sponsored scholarships for students in metropolitan areas from New York City to Los Angeles. But this is the first initiative dedicated strictly to supporting regional youth, said Summer College director Jim Schechter.

“Need is often equated with urban areas, but there are obstacles to educational and professional mobility within rural areas as well,” Schechter said.

The scholarship is sponsored by David R. Atkinson ’60 and his wife, Patricia, who wanted rural youth to get the best education possible.

Summer College got an assist from Jennifer Rudolph, who directs Cornell’s Upward Bound program. She introduced Schechter to administrators and guidance counselors at local schools who could help identify talented students with financial need.

For Caitlyn Secondo of Van Etten, New York, the biggest transition has been class size. Her Summer College class, “The Business World,” has more than 100 students, while her entire graduating class at Spencer-Van Etten High School has just 70.

Secondo, the eldest of seven children, has enjoyed the freedom of living away from home, she said, and focusing on her intellectual development. “I have a lot of siblings at home and I have a lot of responsibilities,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to think just about myself for once.”

Ashley Sullivan of Elmira, New York, is taking “Genius and Madness in Literature.” “I really wanted to take a literature class because that is my weakest subject,” she said. “I wanted to push myself over the summer.”

The weekly papers required for the class are much longer than her high school assignments, she said. And her professor has suggested she write shorter paragraphs. “It was interesting to rework how I structure things,” Sullivan said.

The classes move quickly, covering a full semester – 15 weeks – of material in three weeks; students work through about a week of course material each day.

Time management and self-discipline have been among the biggest challenges they’ve faced, the students said. “I’ve had to be more independent,” Sullivan said. “I can’t rely on somebody else to make sure I’m awake in the morning.”

And the learning is much more self-directed, said Roberts, who is taking “Debate and Rhetoric II.”

“You’ve got to stay on top of your schedule, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing the reading,” he said. “There’s no one there to give you a slap on the wrist if you’re not doing it.”

“We wanted these students to enjoy the academic and social benefits that immersion in the Summer College community offers,” Schechter said. “And we hope it’s a platform for them to successfully launch their college career wherever they choose to attend.”

That has been the case for Roberts. “It has affirmed my sense that I can do this,” he said. “There’s no reason to be intimidated.”

He continued: “Before I came to campus, I was worried I would be surrounded by people who are millionaires, whose parents live in Europe and Dubai. But so far, it’s been successful and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s just been empowering.”


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