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As alumni, Marc Howard (pictured above, right) and Miriam Melnick (pictured above, left) know how transformative the CTY experience can be. That’s why the married Google engineers devote three weeks each summer to teaching Advanced Robotics, which exposes high school students to graduate-level material as they tackle emerging trends in engineering, like autonomous navigation and computer vision.
“They can directly apply what they learn in the workforce or in an academic setting,” Howard says. “They learn that engineering isn’t magic; it’s a great tool they can keep in their belts.” Google allows Howard and Melnick to engage in activities like teaching at CTY, but not all employers offer such options. We must provide stipends respectful of these working professionals’ time—often unpaid—out of the office. These individuals, especially those from underrepresented groups, such as women in computer science, can deeply affect CTY students. “Our female students are gobsmacked that there’s a woman, an engineer at Google, at the front of the class, encouraging them to follow in her footsteps,” Melnick says. “We can make a huge impact when we inspire students in that way—and funding is important in making that happen.”
When the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines about gifted education in April 2016, a question arose: What percentage of American students are actually capable of working above their grade level?
Within two months, Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development Jonathan Plucker (pictured above, standing) and his colleagues had completed a study and a policy brief finding that up to 40 percent of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading and up to 30 percent in math. If so many students were already ahead of grade-based benchmarks, the researchers argued, then policymakers need to rethink the current age-based, grade-level paradigm.
Plucker immediately received invitations to speak with state policymakers to determine how their regulations could be amended to ensure resources aren’t wasted teaching students information they already know. These kinds of “rapid response” projects arise often, Plucker says, and CTY’s international network of contacts gives the center an advantage in pursuing them. The missing link? Increased funding for research costs.
“Through policy advocacy, we can make a disproportionately big impact,” Plucker says, “and philanthropic support makes a very big difference. There’s a lot of bang for the buck in this area.”
CTY Scholar alumnus Kendall Smith (pictured above, right), a native of Accokeek, Md. has always been drawn to serve his community. Kendall, 26, is in his first semester pursuing his Doctor of Nursing Practice with a specialization in Nurse Anesthesia at the University of Pennsylvania. His brother Kamal Smith (pictured above, left), 22, who is also a CTY Scholars alumnus, shares the same passion for helping others optimize their health. Kamal is a recent graduate of Duke University and is now enrolled in the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry. Both brothers credit the CTY Scholars Program as an instrumental experience that has helped them pursue ambitious career goals.
The mission of the CTY Scholars Program is to identify academically advanced eighth-graders from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education, and prepare them for success in highly selective colleges through challenging CTY courses, academic advising, college tours, and guidance through the college application process. Public and charter school students from cities including Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. are selected based on academic achievement, geography, household income, and an interview. More than 75 students from around the country are participating in the program this year, supported by funding from corporations, foundations, and individuals.
Kamal, who spent part of last summer mentoring students on the CTY Scholars college tour, said the program cultivated his knowledge of highly selective universities and helped him navigate the college application process. "This program helps to level the playing field and provide specialized college counseling and academic advising—support that would otherwise be out of reach for many of these students," said program manager Makaya Jackson.
Kendall and Kamal are in good company. More than 700 students have participated in the CTY Scholars Program since its inception in 2004, and have gone on to study at colleges and universities including: Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Duke, MIT, Stanford, Penn, and Yale.
Kendall said that being a CTY Scholar was an important part of his social and academic development. “I was able to interact with other students from around the world who were passionate about learning,” he said. “Being a CTY Scholar was pivotal to my development as a young adult and lifelong learner.”
For many current and past CTYers, the social community they find at CTY Summer Programs profoundly enriches the stellar academics. Sahil Khattar, a 10th grader from Matawan, New Jersey, said he enjoyed the intellectual challenges he found at CTY Carlisle this summer—but his excitement truly showed when he spoke about the friends he made. "There is a real community atmosphere here, and I love how accepting everyone is and how passionate everyone is about learning," he said. "There's no judgment; you can totally be yourself."
Amanda Nguyen, a 15-year-old from Fountain Valley, California, who studied at CTY Los Angeles, said CTY is a place where students make some of the closest friendships of their lives. "In those three short weeks, you learn how to be a nerd and also have so much fun at the same time," she said.
Social life at CTY has been a key component of summer programs since the early days. CTY alumnus Jeremy Katz, who attended six summer programs between 1986 and 1989, found his residential experiences especially meaningful. Jeremy reflected on his experience recently, noting that “CTY’s residential component promotes discovery of one’s self and others, adding an element of humanity to the CTY experience. Accomplishments in the classroom are paired with frank and intimate discussions of hopes and dreams, worries and uncertainties. For some, the value of these personal connections may far exceed the value of academic enrichment. It certainly did for me.”
Jeremy, along with his wife Stephanie, recently established the Jeremy and Stephanie Katz Scholarship Fund at CTY. Their generous endowed gift provides scholarship support in perpetuity for students with financial need from New England. “My gift to CTY was motivated by the worry that there are children unable to access a transformative CTY experience due to their family’s financial constraints,” Katz said. “I wanted to remove that barrier.”
In the past decade, Ilenna Jones (pictured above) has graduated from Dartmouth College, studied under the direction of a Nobel Prize winner, worked in a Johns Hopkins laboratory, and started a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. She hopes someday to advance treatments for neuropsychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Looking back, Jones considers her CTY genetics and genomics summer courses a launching pad for that success—and knows her family’s finances nearly rendered it an impossibility.
Thanks to a full scholarship to CTY, Jones tackled challenging scientific material and became empowered by her increasing ability to grasp it. She thrived among a group of teens who, like her, sought to learn for learning’s sake. CTY sparked her hunger for that intellectually engaged community, and she’s pursued it ever since. “CTY was a turning point for me,” Jones says. “It allowed me to turn toward the direction I’ve taken and form the goals I have now. And I’ve never taken that for granted.”
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