About Pioneer Co-Curricular Summit

Currently there is no single forum for educators, parents, and students to engage with distinguished academic programs and colleges. Recognizing this lack of connection, Pioneer leverages our reputation and invites the most rigorous, values-based programs and colleges together for the Annual Pioneer Academics Co-Curricular Summit, allowing you and your students to engage directly with these organizations.

Keynote Speaker of Pioneer 2nd Co-Curricular Summit

  • Frank Bruni

    Mr. Frank Bruni

    Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times. Bestselling Author, of The Beauty of Dusk and a Professor of Journalism and Public Policy, at Duke University

Esteemed Speakers

At Pioneer Academics 2nd Annual Co-Curricular Summit, industry leaders from high schools, universities and colleges, admission offices, leading NGOs formed panels and shared expertise on cutting-edge topics.
  • Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

    Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

    Director of the Office of Community-Based Learning
    Professor of Cultural Anthropology Washington & Lee University

  • Bruce G. Hammond

    Bruce G. Hammond

    Vice Principal
    Tsinglan School

  • Adam Sapp

    Adam Sapp

    Assistant Vice President
    Director of Admissions
    Pomona College

  • Chris LaTempa

    Chris LaTempa

    Director of College Counseling
    Moorestown Friends School

  • Gregory Manne

    Gregory Manne

    Senior Manager, Selection and Global Outreach

  • Marjorie Betley

    Marjorie Betley

    Senior Associate Director of Admissions
    Executive Director of the STARS College Network
    The University of Chicago

  • Drew Goodwin

    Drew Goodwin

    Senior Assistant Director Of Admissions
    Colby College

  • Melissa Rodriguez

    Melissa Rodriguez

    Admissions Counselor
    California Institute of Technology

  • Susan Corwith

    Susan Corwith

    Director, Center for Talent Development
    Northwestern University

  • Brian Cooper

    Brian Cooper

    Director of Academic R&D
    Pioneer Academics

  • Michael Parkin

    Michael Parkin

    Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics
    Oberlin College

  • Kelly Mu

    Kelly Mu

    Co-Founder and President
    Rural Debate Initiative

Frank Bruni

Mr. Frank Bruni

Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times. Bestselling Author, of The Beauty of Dusk and a Professor of Journalism and Public Policy, at Duke University

Frank Bruni is a renowned journalist, author, and professor who has worked for The New York Times for 25 years. In June 2021, he joined the faculty of Duke University, where he teaches journalism and public policy. He is also the author of several other books, including Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, about the college admissions frenzy.
Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

Director of the Office of Community-Based Learning
Professor of Cultural Anthropology Washington & Lee University

Dr. Goluboff’s work focuses on emotion in a variety of geographical and historical contexts. Mourning and grief in Azerbaijan, hooking up on college campuses, and attachment to home place in Antebellum Virginia — She views emotion as stories — narratives told about self and society, as well as a discourse about interpersonal connections.
Bruce G. Hammond

Bruce G. Hammond

Vice Principal
Tsinglan School

Bruce G. Hammond, Vice Principal, came to China in 2008 and was among the first Americans to work as a college counselors in a Chinese public school. He served as Foreign Vice Principal and Director of College Counseling at Tsinghua University High School in Beijing, where he helped to found Tsinghua International School. Prior to coming to China, Bruce was a teacher and administrator in U.S. independent private schools. He was Managing Editor of the Fiske Guide to Colleges and is co-author of four books in the Fiske series.
Adam Sapp

Adam Sapp

Assistant Vice President
Director of Admissions
Pomona College

Assistant Vice President, Director of Admissions
Significant experience in undergraduate recruitment, program management and higher education administration. Additional experience with international admissions, budget oversight, hiring, human resources, financial aid policy, strategic planning and change management.
Chris LaTempa

Chris LaTempa

Director of College Counseling
Moorestown Friends School

Chris began his current role as the Director of College Counseling at Moorestown Friends School this past summer after 8 years as the Associate Director of College Counseling at Malvern Preparatory School. Prior to Malvern, he served as a college counselor at Salesianum School in Wilmington, DE and as a Senior Assistant Director of Admission at Lafayette College. In addition to his counseling roles, Chris has taught courses on public speaking and social entrepreneurship and coached freshman baseball as well as Lafayette’s NCAA softball team. He is also an adjunct faculty member of Villanova University’s College Counseling Certificate Program.
Gregory Manne

Gregory Manne

Senior Manager, Selection and Global Outreach

Greg Manne, Senior Manager of Selection and Global Outreach for Rise, oversees the design and execution of the recruitment process for Global Winners and engages with global partners to uphold selection standards. With a background in admissions at Dartmouth and Tufts, he has deep expertise in international admissions and outreach, having also served on related committees and worked as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Spain. Greg is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
Marjorie Betley

Marjorie Betley

Senior Associate Director of Admissions
Executive Director of the STARS College Network
The University of Chicago

Drew Goodwin

Drew Goodwin

Senior Assistant Director Of Admissions
Colby College

Melissa Rodriguez

Melissa Rodriguez

Admissions Counselor
California Institute of Technology

Susan Corwith

Susan Corwith

Director, Center for Talent Development
Northwestern University

Dr. Susan Corwith is the director of the Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University and an assistant professor in the School of Education and Social Policy. Dr. Corwith’s expertise is in the fields of gifted education and talent development, with an emphasis on the design, development, and evaluation of academic enrichment and acceleration programs. She has written extensively about high-quality, inclusive programs and services that foster talent development and authored numerous articles and chapters on gifted programming standards, academic acceleration, and assessment and identification.
Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper

Director of Academic R&D
Pioneer Academics

Brian Cooper, Director of Research & Development at Pioneer Academics, has extensive experience in gifted education. He spent 25 years at Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP), creating programs for talented students worldwide. He’s also an award-winning AP English teacher with a focus on engaging students in meaningful learning experiences. Cooper holds degrees in English and Secondary English Education and enjoys reading, theology, and disc golf in his spare time.
Michael Parkin

Michael Parkin

Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics
Oberlin College

Michael Parkin, Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics, researches the interplay between political candidates, media, and U.S. voters, with a focus on how candidates utilize new media like the internet and entertainment TV, impacting voter behavior. His work has been published in top political science journals, and he teaches courses covering American politics, political psychology, media’s role in politics, campaigns, and quantitative research methods. Additionally, he collaborates with high-achieving international high school students on advanced research projects in American media and politics through Oberlin’s partnership with Pioneer Academics.
Kelly Mu

Kelly Mu

Co-Founder and President
Rural Debate Initiative

Kelly holds a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in East Asian studies from the University of Chicago. In college, she excelled in British Parliamentary debate and achieved regional and national recognition. Kelly’s strong non-profit background includes work with Shakti, aiding domestic violence survivors in India, and internships at the African Peacebuilding Network, where she managed outreach and social media for program development and growth.

Watch Recordings

Access original recordings of each seminar of the Summit below. Each session is 30 minutes long. There are highlight summaries for you to capture the essential takeaway in 5 minutes of reading.
(Please note that the seminars and Q&As at Program Fair and College Fair are not recorded.)
  • Play Circle

    Keynote – Authenticity vs. Anxiety: The Connection Between Self and Success

    • Frank Bruni

      Frank Bruni

      Renowned Journalist, Author, and Professor

  • Play Circle

    Back to the Future: the Reflection of Education History and the Forecast of the Future Suggest How Teens Are to be Prepared for the Unknown

    • Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

      Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

      Director of the Office of Community-Based Learning
      Professor of Cultural Anthropology Washington & Lee University

    • Bruce G. Hammond

      Bruce G. Hammond

      Vice Principal
      Tsinglan School

  • Play Circle

    How to Pick Academic Opportunities

    • Adam Sapp

      Adam Sapp

      Assistant Vice President
      Director of Admissions
      Pomona College

    • Chris LaTempa

      Chris LaTempa

      Director of College Counseling
      Moorestown Friends School

    • Gregory Manne

      Gregory Manne

      Senior Manager, Selection and Global Outreach

  • Play Circle

    Rural Student Resources and Recruitment

    • Marjorie Betley

      Marjorie Betley

      Senior Associate Director of Admissions
      Executive Director of the STARS College Network
      The University of Chicago

    • Drew Goodwin

      Drew Goodwin

      Senior Assistant Director Of Admissions
      Colby College

    • Melissa Rodriguez

      Melissa Rodriguez

      Admissions Counselor
      California Institute of Technology

  • Play Circle

    The Role of Mental (Non-Cognitive) Skills in Talent Development

    • Susan Corwith

      Susan Corwith

      Director, Center for Talent Development
      Northwestern University

    • Brian Cooper

      Brian Cooper

      Director of Academic R&D
      Pioneer Academics

  • Play Circle

    What’s Key about Transformative Education

    • Michael Parkin

      Michael Parkin

      Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
      Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics
      Oberlin College

    • Kelly Mu

      Kelly Mu

      Co-Founder and President
      Rural Debate Initiative

2023 Pioneer Academics Co-Curricular Summit Fairs

Keynote – Authenticity vs. Anxiety: The Connection Between Self and Success

Introduction to the 2nd Annual Pioneer Co-Curricular Summit

Pioneer founder Matthew Jaskol introduced the theme of the Summit as “new frontiers.” Noting that 44% of desired core skills will change in the next 5-10 years, he expressed Pioneer’s intention to begin now to prepare students for the new “soft skills” involving creative, critical thinking and self-leadership.


Highlights of the seminar 

Pioneer founder Matthew Jaskol opened the 2023 Co-Curricular Summit by introducing its theme: New Frontiers. Its aim, he said, is to “align the community with the fundamental goal of education, preparing for the future beyond college admission and even beyond the post college job market.” 

Jaskol noted that within the next 5-10 years, by the time today’s high school students are entering the job market, 44% of desired work skills will change. Programming, coding, and data modeling will no longer be in core demand. The “soft skills” that will become the new “hard skills” include thinking skills—creative thinking, analytical thinking, systems thinking, technology literacy. Agile thinking that can understand biases and synthesize messages, mindsets that are not currently taught in schools, will be desired qualities.

Self-leadership, another skill not taught in schools, will be essential. This involves such qualities as understanding one’s own emotions and triggers, self-control and regulation, self-motivation, and wellness. Successful educational systems will need to incorporate these new ideas into their curricula, and this will be difficult, since many institutions—high schools, colleges, government—are linked in this endeavor, and institutions change slowly.

Jaskol sees Pioneer Academics as having the potential to help lead the way into the new reality. “Pioneer believes that we, as a community of students and educators, should start acting to incorporate the building of these new skills and mindsets into our academic and co-curricular pursuits now.” To accomplish this, he intends that Pioneer will “integrate these approaches into our curricula and our research experiences,” and will also work with innovative high school curriculum developers who have the same goal.

“We will decide the kind of world it’s going to be in the future,” he said, and “we will need stronger leaders, more ethical leaders than ever before.”

Authenticity vs. Anxiety: The Connection Between Self and Success

Pioneer founder Matthew Jaskol introduced keynote speaker Frank Bruni, opinion writer on topics related to education for the New York Times, and Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University. Jaskol noted that the theme of the presentation would reflect the title of Bruni’s best-selling book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.

Bruni began by noting that when he began his teaching career two years ago and saw the education field from the inside, he acquired an insight that allows him “to speak now with more knowledge and authority than I did before.” He offered some “truths” to help students “see college in the right light,” and get the most out of their college experience.

He began with the admissions process. Rather than being “an objective measure of your self-worth,” he notes, even at the most selective schools, the admissions process is almost random. Admissions directors are trying to assemble a student body. “Like stage directors who are casting a production, they have certain needs, certain priorities, certain proclivities. And those variables are usually matters of chance.” Therefore, “every bit of anxiety that you lavish on the question of how you can get into the most selective school possible is time and energy taken away from what matters most, which is figuring out what you want to learn, who you want to be, and how you can press whichever college you do attend into the service of that.”

His second point is that college is more than a credential. Of course financial security is important and a college education can be “the on-ramp to a decent income,” but it is far more. College provides “an unrivaled, inimitable chance to grow intellectually and emotionally in ways that will make you better, not only at whatever career you choose, but also at being a responsible citizen, at wringing the most enjoyment out of life, at navigating relationships, at participating meaningfully in the communities that you inhabit.” And “those things correlate much more closely to contentment than income or professional repute does.”

Therefore, Bruni insists, “students must use college as a laboratory for self-discovery.” Rather than choosing the most comfortable environment and starting with a preconceived notion of your goal, college is a time to find what you “genuinely and authentically love,” which will lead you to a truly satisfying occupation.

Bruni offered further insights in response to questions from the participants. He encouraged parents to think about what kind of adulthood they hope their children will have, and try to reduce the self-pressure to get into the most prestigious schools. He pointed out that in a less competitive school, a student has more chance to stand out, “and you may be on the path toward a meaningful life and a healthy one faster than your peers.” He summed up by noting that “what you do when you get to campus is much more important than that safety net of the college’s name.”

  • Frank Bruni

    Frank Bruni

    Renowned Journalist, Author, and Professor

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Okay, good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Second Annual Pioneer Academics, Co-curricular Summit. I should say, good morning, good afternoon, and good evening! We have folks joining from all over the world, and we are thrilled that you have joined us today. My name is Brett Fuller. I’m an academic development manager here at Pioneer. I’ll also be serving as the MC for our event today, and my first responsibility and honor and fulfilling that role is to introduce our founder, Matthew Jaskol.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Matthew Jaskol, founded Pioneer Academics in 2012, with the intent of offering deep intellectual exploration of talented young people to geographic and cultural diversity. He’s a strong proponent of Pioneer’s social mission to offer need-based scholarships that transcend geographic and socioeconomic barriers to outstanding academic engagement.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): He therefore, founded Pioneer Academics as a public benefit corporation and has guided Pioneer to partner with leading nonprofit organizations that assist high achieving low-income high school students.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Graduating with a BA from Skidmore College, Matthew’s early professional roles were in business advisory and technology consulting services at Accenture, Deloitte Consulting and the Economist Intelligence unit. He completed his MBA at Yale University’s School of Management in 2,008.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Matthew, welcome!

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Thank you so much, Brett! And I’m really thrilled to be able to open up our Second Annual Co-curricular Summit and to be able to speak to everybody around the world about the important things we’re going to be talking about today.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): The year 2023 unveils, early glimpses into the frontiers of the future. As the turmoil of the pandemic receded, we seem to have hardly had time to catch our breath before we were confronted by a watershed of extraordinary technological advancements highlighted by artificial intelligence.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Societally, we are also faced with an urgent imperative to address the needs of access to educational opportunities for underrepresented students while considering equity across the broad spectrum of young people preparing for the future. So, new frontiers is the theme of this year’s Co-Curricular Summit. It’s the aim to align the community with the fundamental goal of education preparing for the future beyond college admission and even beyond the post college job market. And that future can be exciting and scary.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): There’s a term I’ve just learned in a documentary we were, that is called a 2077, and it’s a term for the possibilities of the more far off future. Hence called “Hellven”. Yes, believe it or not, this is a real term, that German Futurist, Garret Leonard, uses to describe his view of 50 plus years from now. Hellven, a possible hell, or heaven, or some combination thereof. It could be heaven, he says but it will take collective will to bring that about. Our collective will.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): A future 50 years out may find us embraced in technological marvels. But how people relate to each other and how we construct that future, will decide the kind of world it’s going to be. In that future we will need stronger leaders, more ethical leaders than ever before. According to Nick Bostrom, director of the Future Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, artificial intelligence will reach a human level of intelligence by 2040 or 2050.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): And New Scientist magazine predicts that AI will outsmart humans by the twenty-seventies. It’s hard to imagine the kinds of jobs that are going to be in demand at that point. Well, if 20 to 50 years from now is too amorphous, perhaps too intimidating, for an audience finishing high school, let’s consider the skill sets, skills and mindsets that are demanded in just the next 5 to 10 years. For juniors or senior students, this is the preparation and capabilities that jobs will demand right after you graduate from college.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): According to The World Economic Forum 44% of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next 5 years. The needed core skills. Yes, that’s saying half of the skills you need most to get a good job now will be no longer applicable will be different by the time you graduate college. Programming and coding won’t be in as high in demand, actually.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Data modeling will be more often handled by machines. It’s likely that developing artificial intelligence and working with big data will be in demand until it’s actually emulated by AI itself. So, if you’re thinking that studying artificial intelligence is the next hot field like Pre-Med, you may be surprised. Pulling back to the skills that we know will matter; creative thinking, analytical thinking, systems thinking, along with technology literacy top the list of valued skills.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): According to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, what we’ve been calling soft skills will likely become the new hard skills in the coming age. Understanding biases, synthesizing messages, agile thinking, these are key mindsets that are not emphasized in high school curricula, not measured by standardized tests but they’re critically important in the next 5 to 10 years. Another area, self-leadership is also not part of current curriculum and will not be, and will be fundamentally important in the next decade. What is self-leadership?

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): These are qualities like understanding one’s own emotions and triggers, self-control and regulation, self-motivation, and wellness. Can you take a test in these aptitudes, and submit your official scores to colleges? Of course not. Not, for now at least. But according to McKinsey, these new skills or qualities hold significant keys to people’s future success, not only in work but in leading a fulfilling life. Eventually, successful education systems will need to adapt to new demands.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Accomplishing this will require the collective effort from secondary education, higher education, government, and independent educational organizations. We know it takes time for the first 3 of those, the government, the high schools, the colleges, to develop new systems and curricula. Indeed, the skills valued by secondary schools are heavily influenced by college admissions. The college entrance expectations have become interwoven in the educational fabric often making change more difficult.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Acknowledging the challenges, and this time lag in terms of those reforms, Pioneer believe that we as a community of students and educators should start acting to incorporate the building of these new skills and mindsets into our academic and co-curricular pursuits now. Co-curricular organizations as well as faculty led or student led initiatives in schools can be on the leading edge guiding later more systemic shifts in our educational system. This approach will allow this generation to get exposed to new key skills and aptitudes before the main before mainstream education, core curriculum adapt.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): So, this summit is honored to have such experts who share their vision and their experiences in today’s sessions. Pioneer academics is focusing on the new skills and mindsets needed beyond college admissions and plans to integrate these approaches into our curricula and our research experiences. High school leaders like Bruce Hammond of Tsinglan School, who will be speaking later today, are also building new programs and approaches in high schools as they contemplate the future.Keri Kolettis, one of our speakers from Pinecrest School, has led new approaches to teaching students social entrepreneurship and innovation, and has worked with Pioneer to educate Pinecrest students on tackling complex system level problems, problems that seem to most individuals impossible to address or mitigate.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): To my community of friends, educators, students, and parents here today, now is the optimal time to hear our keynote speaker, Frank Bruni, discuss the connection between self and success. His speech reveals a timeless concept which is also the title of his book “Where you go is not who you’ll be.” This concept will become even more relevant with the backdrop of the major shifts we will be experiencing in the future.

Matthew Jaskol (Pioneer Academics): Frank is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, Bestselling author of Beauty of Dusk and Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University. It’s my honor to have him speaking here today. And now please welcome Mr. Frank Bruni.

Frank Bruni: Thank you, Matthew. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really delighted to be here with you all today. And after my remarks, I hope to answer a lot of your questions.

Frank Bruni: So, for well over a decade now, I’ve been reporting and writing as a journalist about the college experience, and how young people and their families approach it. I’ve been visiting colleges speaking with college presidents, speaking with faculty, speaking with students and beyond campuses I’ve spoken to students on their way to college with the counselors who advise them, and with the various stakeholders, as they say in this world. But something big changed for me 2 years ago, and I want to start there.

Frank Bruni: In July 2021, I joined the faculty at Duke University, one of those coveted dream schools, 6% acceptance rate that so many students put at the top of their list and plot and strategize about. I’m a full professor at Duke, and I’m seeing higher education from the inside. I’m getting to know quite well the students who are among that 6%. So, I speak now with more knowledge and authority than I did before. And with an added perspective. And I believe more than ever in a few truths that are what I most want to convey to you and share with you this morning, because I think they will help students manage the unnecessarily outsized anxiety of getting to and then getting through college.

Frank Bruni: And I think these truths will help students see college in the right light. I think they’ll help students get the most out of college, and I think they’ll help with an authentic life which is often synonymous with the fulfilling and a meaningful one. One of these truths is this. Where you get into college, who admits you, who doesn’t, none of that is an objective measure of your self-worth. None of that has anything to do with how talented you are or how much potential you have. It’s neither an objective calling, nor is it a scientific one.

Frank Bruni: It’s informed by so many dynamics and so many whims that for students to talk of being rejected. For students to feel that they’ve been judged inferior is absolutely nuts. It may feel that way, but it’s not that way. What are schools doing during admission season? They’re assembling a student body. They’re putting together a given class. That’s it. They’re like stage directors who are casting a production. And they have certain needs, certain priorities, certain proclivities. They’re thinking about current and future donors. They’re thinking about diversity of various kinds.

Frank Bruni: Maybe the football team needs cornerback. Maybe the band needs someone who plays French horn. Maybe there’s a women’s volleyball team that desperately lacks players. A Classics department that desperately lacks majors. And so the admissions committee is on the lookout for all of that. The list, the variables go on and on. And those variables are usually matters of chance. I have now taught close to 150 students at Duke in classes size so that I got to know many of those students pretty well. And they’re a bright, talented bunch of people. I enjoy them. I’m impressed by them.

Frank Bruni: But do their papers, but do I read their papers and listen to them and think you were obviously and unequivocally in the 6% of the most brilliant and dazzling people in Duke’s application pool? No. And that’s no insult to them. As I said. They’re bright. They really are talented, but I’m sure, in fact, I would bet everything I own that I could reach into the pile of applicants who were not offered admission to Duke and find several thousand who are arguably just as bright and talented, depending on who’s doing the judging and what those judges are looking for.

Frank Bruni: Why am I telling you this? Because every moment that you spend and every bit of anxiety that you lavish on the question of how you can get into the most selective school possible is time and energy taken away from what matters most, which is figuring out what you want to learn, who you want to be, and how you can press whichever college you do attend, into the service of that. I’m exposing the lie of college admissions that it’s some objective meritocracy, so that you can focus on the authenticity of your experience, not on the brand name of it. So why are so many of us, why are so many people focused on the brand name?

Frank Bruni: They’re focused on it in part because of the partial false excuse me, and cruelly edited narrative that they’re told a narrative that they’ve come to believe about, quote unquote elite institutions of higher education being necessary prerequisites or automatic catalysts for big careers. Big as judged debatably by the altitude of a job title, or the altitude of a salary.

Frank Bruni: When we in the media write about corporate Titans, or best-selling authors, or prominent politicians, or trail blazing scientists or startup gods who went to Harvard or MIT or Stanford, we routinely mention that pedigree, sometimes quite prominently, as if it imparts logic to their arc, as if it’s a crucial explanation. But when we write about those same kinds of overachievers, and they went to state universities or schools of lesser profiles, we leave out that information, or we relegate it to paragraphs much, much lower in our stories, as if it’s a piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t fit.

Frank Bruni: And I bet that if all of you think about your own lives and your own conversations, you’ve noticed this same pattern. It happens when people are introduced to you. It happens when you introduce people to others. Mr. Jones went to Yale. Maria just got into Princeton. Mr. Bruni is teaching at Duke. That creates an impression. Only certain schools matter. Only certain schools are profoundly consequential. And that’s a lie.

Frank Bruni: Every so often I play a little game. I take a grouping of people in the news at a given moment in time, and I look at where they went to college. I did that just 2 months ago in regard to the men and women at the pinnacle of American government right now, and as I wrote in the New York Times, well, you may not admire some or all of these politicians, you cannot argue that in terms of professional achievement they didn’t reach the summit. So where did Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, go to college? The Bakersfield campus of California State University.

Frank Bruni: He’s the top Republican in the House. Hakeem Jeffries is the top Democrat. He got his Bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, which is a branch of the State University of New York. Okay. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader of the Senate, went to Harvard, which is indeed one of those hyper elective schools at the center of an intensifying anger about the admissions practices of the elite institutions. But Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, went to the University of Louisville.

Frank Bruni: It accepts roughly 3 out of every 4 applicants. The acceptance rate is roughly the same at President Biden’s undergraduate Alma Mater, The University of Delaware. At Vice President Kamala Harris’s Alma Mater, Howard University, the acceptance rate is about 35%, a competitive situation, but not crazily sub. I go through that because I want to encourage you all, I want to challenge you to do something, something that will bring you toward truth and away from anxiety. Be as alert and as open to biographical information of the kind I just provided, as you are to its opposite, like those constant references to how all the Supreme Court justices, except Amy Coney Barrett, spent time in the Ivy League.

Frank Bruni: Hooray for the Supreme Court! That’s one panel. That’s 9 people. That is not the universe. That is not you. Another truth that my time at Duke has reaffirmed for me is this. College is more than a credential and to get the most out of it, and to pave the path towards success as I define it, a concept that I’ll return to again in a bit. You should treat college as more than a credential.

Frank Bruni: I understand that the cost of college and the competitiveness of the job market today and all the economic uncertainty around us, I understand that with all of that. It’s important to use college to tee up employment. It’s important that it be an on-ramp to an immediate and decent income, some of which may be needed to pay back student loans. So, I understand that you can’t spend your time at college frivolously, and I would never encourage you to.

Frank Bruni: You can’t ignore certain financial realities but you can pay heed to more than those realities, because what college offers you through the breadth, of course, offerings through the richness of professors, experience and wisdom, through the cultural activities all around you, through the diversity of your classmates, is an unrivaled, inimitable chance to grow intellectually and emotionally in ways that will make you better, not only at whatever career you choose,

Frank Bruni: but also at being a responsible citizen, at ringing the most enjoyment out of life, at navigating relationships, at participating meaningful, meaningfully in the communities that you inhabit. Those things correlate much more closely to contentment than income or professional repute does. And isn’t contentment what we’re all chasing in the end? Isn’t that the real goal? Define success that way, as the cultivation and attainment of a life that makes you feel fulfilled, and that leaves you content. And if your fulfillment and contentment do hinge on reaching a certain stature, in whatever work you do,

Frank Bruni: well, I would argue that you’re still going to be better off if you treat college not strictly as a training ground for the best first job, but in a more expansive fashion as an environment in which to grow smarter in all sorts of ways. Use college to hone your emotional intelligence. To become fluent in dealing with all kinds of people, from all walks of life. To become more interesting, to become more interested. That kind of nimbleness and fluency will distinguish you from the other people in your field.

Frank Bruni: But there’s something even more important than that, and it’s this. You will be the best at what you do, if you’re doing something in which you’re genuinely engaged, if your commitment to it is authentic because then your energy for it won’t be forced. Your work hours won’t be an obligation. There’ll be something you’re glad to lavish on what you’re doing, and you’ll project a passion for what you’re doing that gives everyone around you confidence that you can do it well.

Frank Bruni: So, students must and I mean must, use college as a laboratory for self-discovery. It’s the best such laboratory I know. Too many students begin college having already decided what they’re going to study, what they’re going to become. But how well does anyone know themself at 17, at 18, at 19, or even at 20? How much have they been exposed to? I love to tell the story of a prominent American whom I wrote about and interacted with frequently back when I covered George W. Bush’s 2,000 campaign for the Presidency, and then the start of his Administration. She was the first black woman to be the United States National Security Adviser, the first black woman to be Secretary of State.

Frank Bruni: I’m speaking of Condoleezza Rice, and years later, when we were chatting about higher education, she told me that students at Stanford, where she was then teaching, often asked her, how do I get to do what you did? and what they meant, she said was, how do I get a job of the magnitude you know, of the stature of Secretary of State? And Condoleezza. Rice said this to me, I tell them, you start out as a failed piano Major.

Frank Bruni: What she was talking about is this. She was an only child, and very protective parents. She finished high school at 16, and she was a piano prodigy. and her parents wanted her close by she grew up in the Denver area, and so she went to the University of Denver, where there was a terrific conservatory, and where she would certainly live her destiny and be a concert pianist.

Frank Bruni: But she didn’t know herself well yet, and she didn’t know the world well yet. She got there, and she realized I’m not nearly as good at this thing that I think is my calling as I thought I was. Maybe it’s not what I’m supposed to do. In an open minded fashion, she looked around. She started taking other courses, and she happened to take one with a gentleman named Joseph Corbel, a distinguished diplomat, who also, as it turns out, is the father of Madeline Albright, one of Condoleezza Rice’s predecessors as Secretary of State.

She fell in love with a course she took with Joseph Corbel. She fell in love with the subject of International Relations. She changed her major to International Relations. And this is one of those cases where we really can say the rest, is history. One of the advantages of my long and very diverse career in journalism, most of it at the New York Times is that I’ve met so many accomplished people from so many walks of life, people in politics, people in business, people in the food world, people in the arts, and I’ve written detailed profiles of them. I’ve spent serious time with them.

Frank Bruni: And when I ask myself what most unites and connects them? What were the attributes most common across this group? The number one answer is that they genuinely and authentically love what they do. They don’t regard it as some onerous obligation. They regard it as an exhilarating adventure. It’s work, sure, but it doesn’t grind them down because they’ve chosen an occupation that lifts them up.

Frank Bruni: So what lifts you up? There’s no better place than college to figure out the answer. At Duke, my best students are the ones who, like Condoleezza Rice, followed their authentic curiosity, remained open to change, and are taking the courses they’re taking, and sitting in my lecture hall or my classroom in particular, because what’s going on there genuinely excites them. They’re the students who organically want to learn what I want to teach them.

Frank Bruni: And they excel because of that. They’re not treating college as a credential. They’re treating it as a gateway to new experiences, as a portal to panoramas wider and grander than the ones that they’ve beheld up until that point. At Duke, my best students, and by best I mean the ones who are the most present, were sponging up the most, who are growing the tallest. They’re also the least programmed. They’re the least high bound. They approach what they’re doing inquisitively, energetically, because what they’re doing juices and jazzes them.

Frank Bruni: The difference between a student who’s exuberant and a student who’s merely diligent is everything. And exuberance always wins the day. That leads me to the third truth. I want to share with you today. My best students at Duke, and the most successful people I’ve met in life are not making their decisions in accordance with some rigid checklist. They’re not meticulously checking off items on some inventory of tasks. They’re not insisting on highly specific operating instructions for everything they do. They’re not the students who come into my office and say, How do you want this or how do you want that?

Frank Bruni: Should I use 4 sources for this paper, or should I use 5? Or should it be 6? Should I have 10 footnotes, or should I have 20? No, the best students are the one who wants to come into my office because some idea popped up in class, and our discussion of it ended before their curiosity was sated, or before they had the opportunity to share a thought that they very much want to hash out now in my office. And so, we hash it out there freely, spontaneously, our conversation going wherever it goes. By the time they leave, both of us are a little bit bigger.

Frank Bruni: They’re the exceptions to a kind of contemporary student that Barry Schwartz, a longtime psychology professor at Swarthmore College, talked to me about. Several years ago, I had a long conversation with Barry about how college students had changed over the years. And the reason I had that conversation with him was because he’d been at the same college, Swarthmore doing exactly what he’d been doing for more than 3 decades, so he could do a fair comparison of students from 3 decades ago versus students today.

Frank Bruni: He was comparing apples with apples. And what struck him most about the students today versus the students of yesterday year?Here’s what he said to me verbatim. I think that kids want to be given a clear and unambiguous path to success. They want a recipe, and that’s the wrong thing to be wanting. Progress isn’t made by recipe. Recipes create cooks. They don’t produce chefs. And if we don’t manage to produce chefs at Swarthmore, where are we going to produce chefs? In college, you want to be a chef. In life, you want to be a chef because a chef is inventing and creating and dreaming and constantly growing.

Frank Bruni: The chef is assembling the ingredients in a fresh way that’s going to draw fresh notice. A chef has turned cooking into a calling. A cook is doing what they’ve been told. A chef is living an authentic life. To live an inauthentic life is to open the door to ways of thinking and to values that aren’t ideal. And before I take your questions, I want to give you 2 glimpses of those values by telling you 2 stories that stick with me. One is from the semester I taught at Princeton.

Frank Bruni: I was asked to teach there and to propose some ideas. I proposed a food writing class because I’ve done a lot of food writing in my career, and, as you may imagine, that sounded great to students and like a lot of fun, and many students buy for the 16 places in that seminar. About 50 of them took the trouble to actually write long letters of application. To put together CV’s, to apply to the courses of applying to college.

Frank Bruni: And I remember downloading those 50 different packages from an email in my inbox, and thinking, how am I ever going to choose among these students? Because they all sounded so wonderful. And they had all written such incredibly good letters of application. I chose 16, almost at random, trying to make sure I had a kind of healthy diversity for the class, and then the semester began, and they began handing in papers, and then more papers, and about halfway through the semester I realized, well, I don’t think any of these students are writing as well in this class, as I recall them, having written in their letters of application. As it turned out, I’d saved that email, with all of those letters I went back and I read them.

Frank Bruni: And if I read the ones of the 16 students who were now in my class, and it confirmed my suspicion that the work they were handing in was not as good as what they’d written to me as making the case for themselves to be chosen for the class. And at 1 point I observed this to a fellow professor at Princeton, actually I observed it to several fellow professors at Princeton, and to a person none of them were surprised, and they said to me, you need to understand the reason all of these young men and women are at Princeton, and I think it then had a 7% acceptance rate, it may be down to negative 4% acceptance right now. They said, they’ve learned that the most important thing in life is getting in to selective and exclusive environments, to breaching these sanctums that other people can’t reach. So, they summon their best self.

And they bring their best effort to the act of getting through a door that not everyone can get through. And they put very little thought to what they do once they’re inside the room. Now, that may have helped them get into my class, although in my case I was choosing at random that may have helped them get into Princeton. It is not going to help them lead on authentic, a meaningful, a successful or contented life.

Frank Bruni: Finally, I want to share one other story, one other memory that really sticks with me. In my reporting over the years, I’ve talked with many, many college counselors and one in the San Diego area. I remember a conversation I had with her so well. It was around, it was in the middle of March, end of March or early April. It was right around the time when students were receiving notices from colleges about whether they’ve been accepted or not.

Frank Bruni: And she said per usual, she was having students come into her office in tears because maybe they hadn’t gotten into one of their top 3 choices. They’d gotten into places where they were going to have wonderful experiences and excellent educations, but maybe not the school it was their dream. And she said many of them would utter some version of the following phrase, “I did all of this for nothing.”

Frank Bruni: Meaning all the effort that they’ve spent in their secondary school careers, and she was gob smacked and just gutted by that because she thought, Okay, student, A, you were the president of the student body. You learned invaluable lessons about leading people, about working with people, about collaboration, about compromise, and that’s for nothing if a bunch of strangers in New Haven, Connecticut, didn’t invite you to their school?

Frank Bruni: Or student B, you were the best biology student at our high school. You understand the wonders of the natural world better than any of your peers, and will be set up to experience that natural world in a fresh and an open hearted way for the rest of your life. And that’s not worth anything, if a bunch of strangers in Palo Alto, California didn’t invite you to go where they are? That sort of thinking, those sorts of values are not what you want to cultivate.

Frank Bruni: We have made a big mistake in this country, in this culture, by sending you the message that you should be thinking that way, and I’ll take questions now. But I just want to leave you with a thought. We need to work on that sort of sensibility. We need to push back against that mentality because it doesn’t lead to an authentic life, and it doesn’t lead to a contented one. Anyway, thanks for listening to me. And I look forward to your questions.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Thank you so much, Frank. As a former admissions officer myself at some of the institutions, are the type of institutions you were speaking about. I was nodding my head silently, quite a bit in the background. A lot of that resonated very deeply, and I’m sure I was not alone.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Our audience is full of students, parents, educators, counselors. I’m sure your message resonated quite deeply. I’ll invite folks to use the Q&A function at the bottom of their screen to send in questions and I’ll pose them as I can to Frank. Just to get the ball rolling, we had a question from the perspective of parents. So, many parents, I think, have internalize the message that you that you’ve put across. They know that US News rankings are not the gold standard. They’re not the end. All be all. But they still feel immense pressure to support their students in reaching their goals, reaching the heights that you know they’ve set out for themselves. Do you have any advice for parents, in navigating this process, or in communicating the message that you’ve tried to get across today?

Frank Bruni: Yeah, no, I think my best piece of advice is to be very clear and consistent on what is it you’re trying to help your child achieve? You’re trying to help your child grow into a contented and fulfilled person who is living the life that they want to live. And that doesn’t line up neatly with getting into a certain kind of school. There’s nothing wrong with reaching for a certain kind of school and the schools that a lot of kids put on their dream list are wonderful places that you know as I said, I teach at Duke, and I think it’s a wonderful school, and the students around me are getting fantastic education. But I think they could get fantastic education at a whole lot of places. And I think parents need to say, what am I really trying?

Frank Bruni: What sort of adulthood am I really trying to deliver my child into? And if I become, too worked up and bound up in this notion of a certain kind of school that has an acceptance rate below 10% or 15%, or whatever the marker is. And if I let my child, get all worked up about that, and bound up in that, what message am I sending? What values am I teaching? And also, what am I risking? You know we see right now among children, high school age, a mental health crisis.

Frank Bruni: Unlike anything we’ve seen before, and it has many different components and many explanations. But part of the picture is the amount of stress that some children feel about the stakes of the college admissions process. If you don’t lower the emotional temperature on those stakes, what sort of risks are you taking? What sort of how are you jeopardizing the health of your child in those terms in another. So, I think it’s a matter of being really clear about what the priorities are here, what values you’re trying to teach and what risks you take if you become too focused on a certain outcome.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Thank you. I think that’s immensely helpful for the parents in our audience. We had, questions are flooding in by the way. Thank you all so much for your questions for Frank. I’m parsing through them as best I can. We have a few questions that fall under the general umbrella of on this, in this college search there is pressure to specialize. Students are feeling this pressure to find their niche and to dive deeply, and to say, This is my thing. This is what I’m bringing to your college campus, and in some ways they see that at odds with finding their genuine interest and you, you’ve talked a lot about authenticity. Do you see that push and pull in terms of specialization and trying new things, and finding that authentic interest that you spoke about with, for example, the anecdote about Condoleezza Rice, wondering what feedback you might have for those students.

Frank Bruni: Well, I think, they, those students and their parents are absolutely right to notice sort of cognitive dissonance here. It can, if one is treating getting into a certain kind of school in a strategic way, if one is plotting and strategizing, it absolutely can be the case that developing and then communicating a certain specialty, especially if it’s rare can be an enormous asset in the admissions process at that moment in time. But I think it’s antithetical to what is going to get you, what is going to end up leading you toward a fulfilling life because it may lock you way too soon into a certain kind of thinking and into a box that’s not the box that’s right for you. You can play this one or 2 ways. You can play that game, understanding that the moment you get to college you’re there, and you are not tethered to whatever case you made for yourself, or you can say, I’m going to be genuine from the get go.

Frank Bruni: And it may be that I don’t get into the school with a 6% acceptance rate. And I get into one with 12% acceptance rate because I wasn’t playing the game. But there’s not going to be an enormous difference in your life between that 6% school and the 12% school. And you may be on the path toward a meaningful life and a healthy one faster than your peers. So I mean, that’s what I would say. I would say, you’re never tethered to the case you made to the college you’re going to go to. But you also can just decide to think about it a different way, and not worry so much about the exact what you perceive to be the magnitude of the luster of the name of the school you’re attending.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Thank you. There are a couple of questions about a maybe heightened scrutiny around U.S News College Rankings, and maybe a better understanding among students these days that these rankings are not the end all, be all and yet this machine keeps running, right. And the admissions numbers are not going down, and the rankings continue to come out, and they get all sorts of publication and media attention. What do you see? What has to happen to sort of turn the tide you know, how do we turn this into actionable change.

Frank Bruni: Well, parents mostly but also high school educators, and then students and I do it in that order, because I think asking young people of 15, 16 and 17 to lead the charge, and changing the way we think is a little bit unrealistic and not very fair to them. The adults in their lives need to think differently and the answer is sort of in your question. We all know and you know, when we kind of pull back from the situation and when we reflect, we all know those rankings are gamed by the schools who end up in high places.

Frank Bruni: The biggest dynamic in those rankings is school reputation, which manifests itself in various ways, and various of the metrics and school reputation is a sort of self, perpetuating thing. It has nothing to do with reality. If we know that to be the case we need to stop investing so much importance in them, and I think the minute that people stop outsourcing their judgment to lists like US News and World Report, there are other places that do rankings too, the minute we start we stop outsourcing our judgment to those places and stop making decisions based on what those rankings say, they will lose some of their cachet, and they will begin to fade away.

Frank Bruni: But it requires an active will, and it requires the ability to say, I know that I’m buying into an illusion. And I’m going to stop.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Yeah, thank you. And you know, I do think, anecdotally speaking, those conversations happen more and more frequently, but when push comes to shove, and college lists are built, and you know the aunts and uncles are asking around the holidays, where do you apply to college, it’s a lot of the similar conversations. And I think that could be really challenging.

Frank Bruni: You just said something I’d love to just kind of tag something on to cause it’s important what you just said. You just said when you’re asked where you applying to college, where you’re going to go to college. One of the things that those of us can do, those of us with kids, those of us without children, one of the things all of us adults can do is start having a different kind of conversation, and more diverse conversations with the teenagers and high school students in our lives. We need to check ourselves, because for some reason there’s an easy bridge,

Frank Bruni: there’s a shorthand people meet someone 16, 17 and they say, Oh, where are you thinking of going to college? Where are you applying to colleges? And it is just a kind of conversational tick, right? It’s spontaneous. It’s not meant to be freighted with meaning. But if you’re a 16 or 17 year old, and every time you meet a new adult or 2 out of 3 every new adults you meet ask you that question, you end up getting a message that they don’t mean to be delivering to you.

Frank Bruni: That you’re going to be defined by the college you choose, so I wish those I wish we adults would be more conscious of the conversations we have with teenagers and censor ourselves because we’re being, they’re hearing things in our questions and our conversations that we don’t mean to be saying and it can be very damaging.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): I think that’s an excellent point. Yeah. And one that all of us can take away from this conversation as well, myself included. We have, a number of international students and counselors and parents in the audience as well, and one of the sort of additional layers of this conversation for them is not only do they feel pressure to seek some of the most selective institutions, but they’re seeking institutions abroad right in the United States and we’re getting questions about, you know, from your perspective as both a journalist and an educator is there something to this drive to attend one of the highly selective institutions in the U.S specifically? Is there something about the American higher education system that they should be seeing value in? Or is this another step back moment and say, you know, maybe there are institutions in my home country, or in another region of the world that might be a better fit for me.

Frank Bruni: Well, there, there are wonderful institutions of higher education all around the world, and that question of a fit is important. I want to come back to that, though, because I don’t look at fit exactly the way that a lot of students do. But I understand. And I don’t think it’s illogical that a lot of students want to come to college here. We are, our system of higher education for all of its faults, flaws, is the envy of the world for a reason. But what I would say to those international students is it’s the envy of the world, not just because of the 8 schools in the Ivy League. It’s the envy of the world, not just because of the 20 top ranked colleges or universities in the 2 separate U.S News and World Report List. It’s the envy of the world, because our bench is so deep because, our, you know, our best public universities are extraordinary laboratories of research, and all of that. So, I would say to them a version of what I say to domestic students, which is, when you’re thinking about where you want to go to college, be more expansive than restrictive, and understand that there are many more excellent options than you often find yourself pulled toward when you think in the most narrow and brand driven ways. But I want to say something about fit, too, so I’m glad you use that word. We too often use the word fit to mean a school at which I will be instantly comfortable.

Frank Bruni: I know so many students who are looking for a college that feels like an upsized version of whatever their high school was. I think fit should be the exact opposite thing. I think college is this amazing opportunity. To make sure you’re exposed to things that you haven’t been exposed to until that moment in time to sort of challenge yourself by making yourself a little bit uncomfortable, because I think it’s when you’re uncomfortable, and when you’re stretching in new directions, I think that’s when you grow and you discover new sources of strength, new muscles, all of that.

Frank Bruni: I remember when I chose, I’ve done a lot wrong in my life. And there are many modes of thinking in my life that I wish I could revisit in reverse but one of the things I think I did right is when I was choosing college it came down to would I go to Yale, where I had been fortunate enough to get in early admission, or would I go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I’d received a full ride, free merit scholarship.

Frank Bruni: I was then living 50 min from Yale. I was attending a private school, at which a half a dozen seniors every year went to Yale. Yale was going to feel really, really, familiar to me. UNC was south of the Mason Dixon line, and I’ve never been south of the Mason Dixon line unless you count Disney world then I think it’s accepted. I think it has an asterisk. UNC was 85% students from North Carolina, and I’d never been to North Carolina. It was big. It was socio economically diverse,

Frank Bruni: in a way that my private school in Connecticut hadn’t been, and that, and in a way that Yale then wasn’t, and still isn’t as much as it should be. And I thought, this place sounds strange. This place sounds new. I think I just had a feeling that’s going to challenge me and stretch me in ways that are really important. And that was the right decision. And I wish when we talked about fit, we wouldn’t mean fit, we wouldn’t connote fit as snub, comfy. Fit means what school is going to do the most to expand me as a human being.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): I think that’s a really interesting point, and certainly something I was probably guilty of as a former admissions officer when we when we described fit. I don’t know that we are describing something that is potentially abrasive in a positive way. And I think that’s a really great way to think about that. I also wonder if you had to turn over your UNC Chapel Hill card when you started to join the faculty at Duke? I’m not sure how they would have received that.

Frank Bruni: I was never one of those, I loved my years at UNC. I now live in Chapel Hill. I’ve I’m looking to my left, because the university is just 5 miles through the trees over there. But I never understood sort of college tribalism when I was at UNC. I did not despise and root against Duke the way so many people do. And now that I’m at Duke, I don’t, I don’t view the rivalry from a Duke perspective. I, to me they’re just 2 excellent schools that happened to occupy a real estate near each other.

Frank Bruni: In fact, there’s a wonderful scholarship called the Robertson Scholarship that shuttle students back and forth between UNC and Duke. And if you have a Robertson scholarship, whether you’re rooted at UNC or whether you’re rooted at Duke, you’re obliged to take a certain number of campuses at the other school, and there’s a dedicated bus that brings them back and forth.

Frank Bruni: I view the universities that way, as collaborative and as added value to each other, and not as rivals. Although I will tell you, I gave the commencement address at UNC 2 years ago or a year and a half ago and both times from the stage when they read my biography and said that I was teaching at Duke, the students booed loudly, and I would just say of the many life experiences that I wish upon the students who are listening today. Getting booed before you address 50,000 people is not something I recommend.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): I’m sure it was all in a loving manner. It was a growing experience. Yeah, all in good fun. We have a question here, which is a sort of different perspective on a theme we’ve been touching on, which is students aiming for these highly selective institutions and potentially coming up short. And this student was asking, you know that they applied to some of these most selective, you know, quote unquote, prestigious institutions because they viewed it as a safety net, almost professionally right? So, we’ve discussed that so much is changing, you know, we don’t know what the career prospects are going to be 5, 10, 15 years from now and they thought, Okay, if I have that degree stamped on my resume, I at least know I’m going to get attention professionally.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): I guess the question is, you know, he notes here that you’ve done some to a suasive concern. But the question is, what can they do at that whatever institution they do end up at to make sure they’re in a position to find their authentic, best self, their interests, and develop themselves for successful career?

Frank Bruni: Well, I mean, I think what we just say is what kind of safety net that is comparable to the brand name of a Duke, or a Harvard or an MIT? Right? Here’s what I would say to that. A lot of students there, there can be a danger. A lot of students get into a Duke or Harvard or Rice or Georgetown, or what have you. And like those students in my Princeton class, they believe, because of that kind of safety net – Now I’m set – idea that their hardest work is done and they coast, and that catches up with them. And what they meant to be an insurance policy actually becomes something else. It becomes something that is not helpful.

Frank Bruni: Conversely, a lot of students who don’t get into the 7% acceptance rate school that they were angling for and end up at one with a 20% acceptance rate. They go to that school feeling a little bit more, a little, a little bit scarer or more scared, excuse me, a little bit hungrier, they work harder. They stand out more because they don’t feel quite as intimidated by the people around them. They maybe make more of an effort to get to know faculty, and what I would say is what you do when you get to campus is so much more important than that safety net of the college’s name.

Frank Bruni: And on some campuses, if getting in was less cutthroat, you will be able to stand out a little bit more easily. You will, when I was at UNC, which is an excellent school and is hardly easy to get into but I developed relationships with professors in the English department, I was an English major. Because I think it was a little bit easier for me to stand out than it would have been at Yale and because I kind of took it as a matter of importance that I make the absolute most of this environment.

Frank Bruni: Get to know faculty members use them as mentors, plug into alumni networks. The alumni networks at schools that aren’t in the Ivy League are every bit as committed and active as schools in the Ivy League. You will have as guaranteed a future out of out of college. You’ll have this guaranteed a future as the energy you put into that college experience, and the thoughtfulness you put into how you spent those college days.

Frank Bruni: And the greatest danger of the culture of admissions. Right now, the greatest danger of this fiction we’ve put forward that it’s all that you that the die is cast based on what happens when you get into or don’t get into certain schools is we’ve completely forgotten to tell young men and women that the way they use each semester of their college experience and the breadth of their college experience is so much more consequential to their careers, to their success, to find the right way to their contentment than a few months in their senior year, and the decisions of a bunch of strangers around the country and admissions offices.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): Well said, and I think that’s excellent advice. And I’m sure it’s appreciated by our audience member there. I think we have probably 1 one more time for one more question. And this is a bit of a tangent, but an excellent opportunity for this student, and it’s very much your wheelhouse. The student aspires to be a journalist. And they wonder if you have advice for them. They’re currently in high school, seeking not yet a senior and wondering what advice you have for the next generation of journalists.

Frank Bruni: Well, thanks for that question. I love getting that question. I’m going to give you maybe a surprising piece of advice, but I am telling you this is the best advice there is. Read, and then read some more and then read some more. Many of the young people I’ve met at Duke, who take journalism, oriented classes with me, they put the cart before the horse. They’re so eager to write, and they’ve started writing, but they haven’t read as much as they need to read. And I say that because the way people become better writers, better communicators, and the better a writer and a communicator, you are the better chance you have at the journalism career you want, is by exposing themselves to that work done at its highest level. To read and read and read some more, and I feel so passionately about that, about this, that in fact I’ve been fortunate enough since I began teaching at Duke, that most of the courses I’ve taught are courses of my own invention.

Frank Bruni: And I’m teaching a course this semester called Master Works of Journalism, and it is just about reading some of the best journalistic books that have ever been produced. Some of the classic magazine articles. The whole reason I invented that course, and the whole reason I’m teaching it right now is because I wanted to send the message to students before you can write. You have to read. Read all of this, and then you will understand better what you’re trying to write, and you will have absorbed the lessons and the rhythms of writing done well.

Frank Bruni: If you will forgive a crude metaphor that I nonetheless always use or think of in my head, because it’s correct. You are when you are writing, be it journalism, fiction, or whatever, you’re sort of pasta machine, and if you don’t put eggs, flour, and water in one side of that machine, you’re not going to be able to pump out linguine, spaghetti, vermicelli, etc. You have, that’s what reading is. It’s putting all of the ingredients into your brain, so that what comes out of it is as dazzling and varied and nimble as you want it to be. So, my advice is read.

Brett Fuller (Pioneer Academics): There you go. Fantastic advice, and probably frankly fantastic advice for all of our students in the audience, read and prepare for the next journey in your life. I think we are out of time, Frank. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. It was a real privilege to hear what you had to say, to ask you some questions. I know our audience is grateful. If they were live, I’m sure they’d be clapping right now. But it’s and not booing you off stage, that’s for sure as the Duke and UNC crowd may have in different exchanges. Thank you so much. It was a privilege and we appreciate having you. Have a great rest of your weekend!

Frank Bruni: It was my privilege, thank you!

Back to the Future: the Reflection of Education History and the Forecast of the Future Suggest How Teens Are to be Prepared for the Unknown

Summary of “Back to the Future” Session
Daniel Boulos, Academic Relations Specialist for Pioneer, introduced the theme of the session: how educators can think through the changes that are happening today, and how best to support students in preparing for the future. The impetus for the panel, he said, was the rapid rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. The panelists were Sascha Goluboff, Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director of the Office of Community Based Learning at Washington and LeeUniversity, and Bruce Hammond, Vice Principal at the Tsinglan School in Dongguan, China.

Boulos first asked the panelists whether today’s rapid changes are truly unprecedented, and how we might need to change to adapt to the new realities. Hammond responded that “too often, schools prepare students for the past, not the future.” This is a compelling moment, if not unique, and it emphasizes the need for “inquiry learning” in middle and high school, rather than waiting for college and university. Goluboff added that it is important for university professors to understand and communicate that they are teaching skills transferable to the job market, not just the content of a discipline.

Boulos followed up by asking how Goluboff did this in her own discipline of anthropology. She summarized, “anthropology is about making the strange familiar and the familiar strange,” and emphasized that in a world in which diversity is key, being able to move back and forth between perspectives is “super important in today's workforce.” Practical skills include connecting with others through interviewing, and distilling large amounts of material gathered through research into “a story that you want to tell.” Hammond added that the process of engaging in dialogue with others involves gaining “a richer and deeper understanding,” learning for the future rather than for a test. “When you go out into the real world, you will never take a test,” he noted.

Concerning the role of generative AI in education, Goluboff began, “what makes us human is that we use tools.” The question is whether it is enhancing our ability to get things done. Both panelists emphasized that AI can help with practical tasks like finding or designing a study guide. However, it cannot think, and it is important to fact-check its findings and to remember that it was designed by humans and is therefore biased. It can provide information; we decide what to do with the information.

A student participant who learns everything easily without guidance wondered if university is really necessary for a budding scientist. Hammond pointed out that research is a collaborative process, and Goluboff added that conversations with peers further both understanding and curiosity. Another student wondered how to set limits when using AI, saying it was easy just to cut and paste everything. Goluboff advised paying close attention to the actual assignment, to avoid being sidetracked by too much information. A final question led to the advice that if you are clear about your own values, identity, and voice, you can stay true to yourself and find technology a useful tool.

  • Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

    Dr. Sascha L. Goluboff

    Director of the Office of Community-Based Learning
    Professor of Cultural Anthropology Washington & Lee University

  • Bruce G. Hammond

    Bruce G. Hammond

    Vice Principal
    Tsinglan School

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): All right! Hello, everybody! Welcome to our first panel discussion of the day. I’m pleased to be moderating this panel with Bruce Hammond and Sasha Goluboff. Today’s panel, this panel Back to the Future, we will be discussing how educators can think through all the changes that are, you know, happening today, and think about how best to support our students in preparing them for tomorrow that seems as though, is getting increasingly difficult to envision. What that tomorrow is going to look like with the, you know, the advent of all these technologies, perhaps best represented by the way in which ChatGPT burst onto the, onto the scene in the last year. So, we’ll talk a little bit about that but the bigger question we’re really grappling with is, you know, what are the things we need to think about as we are preparing students for tomorrow in such a rapidly changing environment.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): So, our panelists, our first panelist, is Professor Sascha Goluboff. She is a Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director of the Office of Community-Based Learning at Washington & Lee University. Bruce Hammond is the vice principal at the Tsinglan School in Dongguan, in South China. So, we are delighted to have both of them joining us today. We’ve got about a half hour for this conversation, so I think we should just dive into the discussion and get it going.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): So, here we go. So, one of the impetuses for this particular panel was the rapid rise of generative tools like, generative AI tools like ChatGPT. I mean, you may remember when it burst onto the scene about a year ago. What I remember is panic across academia about this, this new, I think, as it was being seen in the moment it was, it was widely viewed as a threat to academic integrity without initially, a whole lot of thought about the possible you know, potential of the of the technology and we’ll talk specifically about ChatGPT in a few minutes, but I wanted to start a little broader. And so my first question is in 2 parts. And I’d love to hear from both of you on this. And so, the first part is What do you think like based on your role as educators, what do you consider to be some of the most important questions or issues that we need to consider as we’re adjusting to some of the significant changes we’re seeing in what seems to be a moment of very rapid change.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): And when I talk about that rapid change, I’m also not talking just exclusively about technology. I mean, there are, there are so many other things that are changing in the landscape that impact technology from, you know the increasing political polarization in the country, politicization of the educational system. So, you know think about what are some of those impacts that you think are important and how they, you know effect the way we’re preparing our students.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): And then my second part, the second part of that question is, is this moment truly a unique moment in terms of you know, the prospect of major change, fundamentally changing the way we need to think about the way we educate students. Now, I as someone who’s trained as a historian, I am always very suspicious of words like unprecedented, because in my experience, you know, most things that are said to be unprecedented, really aren’t. I mean, they may be a little different. But my question is, from your perspective have you seen moments like this before where new advances in technology, new policies came onto the scene and you know threatened or perhaps suggested that we might need to, you know, fundamentally change the way we do things. And what might we learn from those things?

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): So, Bruce, I’ll start with you on this question. If you’d like to talk about, you know, from your perspective as an educator, what do you think are some of the most important challenges or issues that we need to think about and is this, you know, is this moment that we’re talking about this moment of rapid, transformative changes, is it really a unique thing, haven’t been here before? Alright! Well, I think too often. Schools prepare students for the past, not the future. The way we go about learning bodies of knowledge that are from the past, and we can get into this a little more. Is this a unique moment?

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): I think maybe it is, but it’s not unique in the sense that the case to be made for what we call inquiry learning which it’s research, it’s everything that Pioneer does. It’s what college and university professors do and what graduate students do, and it’s what kindergartners do. But it is too often not what high school students do, and middle school students. And so, I think it’ll be interesting to see, because this is a compelling moment, and it crystallizes how our education system is to a significant degree out of step with the priorities for the future. But they’re very powerful reasons why our way of doing things has persisted in the past. And so that’s the key question, will this build momentum to actually reform and do things differently, or we going to have a little bit of running around and commotion. And then in the end not much changes. I think the jury is out on that.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): I want to add in on that. Thanks for bringing it up, Bruce. I think that some of the conversations I’ve been involved in recently are how we can help our students prepare for jobs. And so it’s interesting. So, we have you know, how do we prepare high school students for college? You know how do then, how do we prepare the college students for jobs? Are we doing a good job doing that?

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): And so, one of the things that’s come up recently is people turning away from higher education, thinking it’s not worthwhile whether that be for political reasons or just, let’s just get into the professions. What are they teaching us, right? And so, making it explicit for students to understand the skills they’re learning in the classroom can be transferable to job skills, but also changing the mindset of the professors. I’m in a conversation right now with colleagues about how do we do that? How do we get to see that, get professors to see that they’re not just teaching the discipline right sort of, Bruce was saying, like the stuff that we learn in graduate school. But they’re actually teaching skills that can be transferable, whether that’s critical thinking or group work,

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): whereas, as we’re saying, inquiry based research and learning that can that can help students thrive after they get out of the university. And so, I think there needs to be a mindset change, because you can fall back and say well, higher institutions of education have been around forever, but what are they doing? What are the population they are serving? You know, who’s going to these places. Why invest all this money when you might come out with debt? Right? And so, it’s just not an easy go right away to college, but really getting people to think why they’re doing it. And I think that colleges need to. And they’re moving to this direction, making a case for themselves, not just assuming everybody’s going to go to college, if they can have the, if they have the means to do so.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Yeah, I think that’s a terrific point. And I was actually just in preparing for this panel I was talking to one of my colleagues here at Pioneer, and one of the things I thought I brought up is that a lot of college professors are actually resistant to the notion that their role is to prepare students for a job market, you know, because their view is like my role as the professor is to what you said, teach the discipline, right? So yeah, those are some, some great points.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Sasha. I wonder if you might talk about from your own perspective as you know, in your own, in your own discipline. Right? Anthropology. What are some of the ways in which you know you make the case to the, to the students. And you know, for the students and parents watching today, right. Like, what are you, why should their students register for that anthropology class? How like, what are the skills they’re going to glean in that anthropology class? And how are those skills going to prepare them for the real world like, I know your research concentration for Pioneer actually have students going out, and I think was interviews oral histories that they were gathering. So, I mean,

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): I think there’s a very clear case to be made for their some fundamental skills, not just about inquiry, but also just about, you know, communication and persuasion and such. So, if you want to talk about that, and yeah.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Sure, I mean, so anthropology is a big field and basically anything has to do with what it means to be human sort of covers that. Whether it’s biological anthropology, looking at human evolution, or it’s language and culture, archeology and just sort of everyday lives. But what I like to tell people is, if I have to be like in a cocktail party, if I have to summarize her, you know, a pitch on the elevator, I would say that anthropology is about making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): So, figuring out, seeing that other people do things different from you, whether that be your, your, your small family group, or your national group, or your religious group however it is, they do things differently. And then, after a while, realizing why and the logics behind it, then you can say, Oh, well, that doesn’t seem so strange anymore. And then taking that, reflecting back on yourself and saying, why do we do things we do? You know, what is so natural and normal about that?

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): So, it’s that back and forth of moving between perspectives that’s super important in today’s workforce. I mean, if you look at career readiness goals across the board, working in diversity is number one, right? So, how do we, and so getting to think about, how do we think beyond ourselves, understand others and the prospects rethink who we are is important. Also, the notion of empathy, understanding others not just sympathizing with others like, Oh, I’m better, but actually getting on the same, you know, sort of the same wavelength as other people, and trying to figure out why sort of understanding what they’re going through for interest in that.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): I also think that you know, anthropology is, I always tell my students like a tool in your toolbox of understanding, right? So, political science is very much a top down approach, looking at how governments form and what how governments work, and anthropology is the bottom up. Like you start with the people, what they’re doing and trying to understand their motivations and from that you get sort of a larger perspective and it’s sort of that micro perspective that can lean up to like a macro, larger world view.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): So, being able to take on and off these like glasses of lenses of perspective I think are really important for students as they move forward. And I tried really hard in my anthropology courses to get that across to them that they’re going to leave the class with, a better tool in their toolbox and through all the skills that we practice, whether it’s connecting with folks interviewing or taking a big amount of information, Bruce sure knows of inquiry, doing some research, looking at what’s literature that’s been written, and then distilling it down into its key elements and then reforming that into a story that you want to tell, these are great skills to have in any job set. So, that’s just a brief overview.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Well, excellent. Thank you.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): Yeah. I like to chime in on that. And it’s so important the process. What are students doing? And so, a student could have a lecture class where a teacher goes over you know, history in the last 50 years and you, you all know, you learn about different political, social events and could be social history.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): But it’s the process. On the other hand, you’ve got, what are you doing when you’re doing oral history? Well, you need some background. You got to do some research for sure. But you’re formulating questions. You’re active, engaging in dialogue with people, you’re realizing in the course of a conversation, wait a minute, I’m not prepared for this.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): I, this is totally different than what I thought it was, and then, at a certain point you come out with a much richer and deeper understanding and so that is, that’s inquiry. That is learning about some, and it’s the past, it’s history. But still, that’s the process that can be applied to the process of learning for the future as opposed to simply learning about the past and taking test over what happened previously.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Yeah, if I could add to that, too. I think that one of the things that really excites me about teaching a Pioneer class is like the students come up with their ideas they want to research. And their and I have them go look at what other research has been done, and I tell them, like, you might have this idea, but you need to insert it into a larger conversation. A larger conversation is happening about whatever idea it is and their research done. And you’re going to add into the conversation. So, you need to know what that conversation is. You need to know what your perspective is to add into it and they go off and they do the research. And I really try to, you know, they look back on their hypotheses they have based on what research been done already, and it’s the point where they find something that they didn’t expect. I say, that is the important point. Let’s get into that. What did you not expect to find. Why did you find it? And how are you going to deal with that?

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Because learning and working with others is you’ve, you have this sort of cognitive dissonance where your expectations aren’t met, and that’s what you really have to dig into and that’s your contribution to get into that, and explain and figure out why this happened the way it did, or what I found that wasn’t expected. And Link, and that’s your contribution to the conversation, and so getting students to see that it’s not rote memorization that’s learning it is that uncomfortableness when you find yourself in a difficult situation or unexpected situation, how do you handle that? How does that lead you to a higher understanding and higher learning and experience and sharing that with others.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): I have one quick follow up question for Bruce, I think on this this topic of you know the move, the move toward emphasizing inquiry in the curriculum.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): And Bruce I mean, as someone who values research and you know that’s what I did for a very long time, and now, you know I work for this research, this organization that runs a research program. It’s very clear to me the fundamental importance of inquiry as an educational tool, and the value of it in terms of, you know, moving through the world, whether in school or you know, in the job market. But, I wonder if you might just make that connection a little more explicit for our audience, so why does moving toward inquiry, how might that move toward inquiry benefits students beyond education, Right? How, like, how might you know, I agree 100 percent the importance of process over just rote memorization and such. But why does it matter? Why is inquiries specifically a valuable tool for someone who’s actually going to be going out, you know, from college to the real world right?

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): When you go out into the real world you will never take a test. No one is ever going to hand the paper out and tell you, don’t talk to anyone, you’ve got 30 min to do this, you know. You may begin. You know, black in those circles, or whatever. And so, what we’ve got with a lot of high school education is unfortunately, the priority is on sorting and ranking students figuring out who’s good and who’s not so good. And that drives us to things like multiple choice tests. Sad to say, this is the high school vice principal kind of coming clean and being honest.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): We’ve got a lot of work to do. And so where are the meaningful activities? Very often in high school they’re in the extra curricular realm, there when you get to manage something you get to be head of the Student Council, or you get to be you get to edit the yearbook, or you do, you do research. And this is the process of work. No, nobody’s going to ask you in the world of work, you know, we got this test next week, and you know, you can’t use your notes. That’s a good one, isn’t it? You can’t use your notes. So, this process that we have for most of mainstream schooling is completely out of step with what students are going to be doing in the next phase of their life.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): Whereas inquiry is, is very much what students are going to be doing in many jobs and careers. And there I throw in management, I throw in a few other things. But that’s the basic problem that we have as high school educators.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Yeah, I would just add into as Director of Community based learning, one of the things that we do is we connect students and faculty to community partners that have common goals and projects in mind. And so, it’s one thing to come up with an idea of a marketing strategy and in school, you know in your classroom, but then, when you have to pitch it, an actual organization that tells you oh, wait a minute, I’m not liking this. The students go, what do you mean? Well, that’s not what we wanted and then students have to go back and redo it. That’s real-life experience.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): They have to be, have to be creative on the fly. It’s not just checking boxes.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Excellent. Great. So, I think we probably have time for one, maybe 2 more questions before, I want to see what we have in the Q&A here. But, Sasha, I wanted to ask you your perspective as both an educator in the classroom, but then also as a cultural anthropologist in terms of like your research.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): You know, a lot of the discourse around generative AI and ChatGPT, it’s invoked the notion of disruptive technology. You know, it’s a term that we bandy about a lot when we’re talking about technological advances that disrupt markets. Right? But as a cultural anthropologist, I would imagine that a disruptive technology like AI probably raises some questions that are a little bit bigger than how it might disrupt markets or industries, and I wonder if I don’t know if any of your actual research has actually gone as actually started thinking about this yet. But I would imagine that you have some thoughts about it from your, you know, your particular disciplinary perspective, and I just wonder if you might talk about what are some of the questions that the advent of tools like generative AI, raising your mind from an anthropological perspective, and how they might be relevant to thinking about how we educate our students.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Yes, I mean, what makes us human is that we use tools. And that’s just, you know, basic sort of physical biological policy. So, it’s just another tool that we use. And the question is, how is it enhancing our humanity? How is it enhancing our ability to get things done or not? And I think that I think where it works well, is when it is a tool.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): So, for example, students using chat GPT to like proofread an essay, and not just proof it. But say, what did, where did I go wrong here? Can you tell me, you know, what I need to work on? Or students in like a pre-med class like and they have so much material and they ask, ChatGPT, can you create a study guide for me? So, I can help, so you can help me synthesize so I can learn the material, right? Can you have a research paper? Can you, you know, help me find the resources. But then the idea is that it it’s a tool, it’s to help us get some more. We can’t just rely on it completely. So, the question is checking our facts like going back and checking to make sure the sources actually exist. You know, for example, I think, where we get in trouble with the ChatGPT and other generative AI is that we forget that it’s actually created by humans so that it can be biased, it is biased. Sometimes we think that AI is unbiased or objective, but it’s not. So, how has it been coded, to look at certain things and not other things and we need to fact check it. I think that it’s really going back into, Bruce was saying. We’ve been talking about this generative AI is really going to change the way we teach.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): It’s not just okay, memorize these facts because you can find the facts online. You can you find it through generative AI. It’s more about how do you understand the content? How do you being creative with the context? How are you using this? How are you checking it? How are you using it to expand your understanding that’s right. So, we can launch like on the shoulders of giants, right? We can launch higher because we can get all this information quicker. So, the question is great, but what are you going to do with that information? Not just sit on it and rely on it. So, I think it’s, it’s going to change the way that we teach, in the way that we understand what it, enhancing our sense of being human. It’s not just yes, we have the tool but how do we use it to advance ourselves and not just rely on it completely? That’s, that’s what I would say.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Great! Aright, you know. I had, you know I had another couple of questions prepared, but I’m actually seeing there are several questions in the Q&A. And so, I’d like to get some of the, I think I’d rather get some of those questions out onto the floor as well because I think we covered much of the ground I thought was important too. But let’s hear some other people’s minds and see if we can respond to that. Okay, so here’s a question from a student. A student says they are a student who loves science and wanted to become a scientist in the future.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): They find that a great portion of knowledge comes easily for them, and that, they can understand basically anything by working by themselves. So, what is it that a top university or college can give them that they can’t get by themselves, right? What is, so for someone who, acquiring knowledge seem to come you know, just supernaturally to,

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): what can we get, through higher education that they cannot get you know, on their own, no matter how bright or resourceful they may be? Other than the obvious answer of the credential that you may need in order to actually so you know, land a job after you get after you get out. So, I’d love to hear from either one of you on this. I guess I’d first ask is, are you really doing the process that you may be doing the predominant high school process which is to cover bodies of knowledge, and then remember them. But, inquiry is not the predominant way that we do things in high school for a pro, probably for worse, not better.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): And so, I think, having role models, I think, having colleagues with their own research projects. I think that I don’t know, and here I defer to Sasha but I think that that there’s a different process that that you would have, and in college and university. And I wouldn’t assume that high school is all that similar.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): Yeah, I’ll just piggyback off that. I think that you’re going to learn what you do with the knowledge. How do you work in teams with the knowledge? How do you promote your idea, how do you research alongside others? And actually, those little those conversations are, going to push about the knowledge. They are going to push your understanding and get you to be more curious about where to go next. And so, it’s you know, it’s like a hive mentality, you know. You really got to get out there. You got to work with others. And that’s where you’re going to see your creativity and understanding blossom versus sitting alone doing it yourself.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): And in in natural sciences you’re really in the laboratory and well, maybe I’ll speak out of term. I can remember a principal colleague talking about a major standardized test that has a set group of labs that you have to do. And the outcome of the labs is basically predetermined. So, his comment is, that’s not science. So, if you’re doing the standardized curriculum that where you get 5
not really science, I hate to say it, it is, it has some of the trappings of science. But spending time in a laboratory and I’m you know I’m not an expert on this, but I’ve been, I’ve been there enough to know that it’s a very different process to get in there and define a research goal and then realize that what you’re doing a month later, you realize. Well, nope, can’t do that. Wrong, and trial and error, and all of that, just not the same as what you would do in a high school class, usually.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Okay. Let’s see here. There was another question I saw here that I wanted to pull out. So, here’s an interesting AI question from who I, someone I assume is a student and I think it I think, Sasha, it kind of gets back to what you were talking before about the idea of AI as a tool. But, let me just share this discussion in its entirety. Sometimes AI could still help us, for example if I don’t understand the concept, I would ask it to explain it to me. However, sometimes it gets out of hand for me, and they end up copying and pasting everything.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): How do I find this balance and control the use of AI and I picked this question specifically because II think it, it kind of highlights a number of things, right? How tools like AI can be really valuable educational tools and help students in certain ways. But, there are also limits after which its use can almost short circuit learning, or actually be, be more, you know, do more harm than good. And it seems that you know this this student is having a little bit of difficulty navigating like how to use it as opposed to how to, I don’t want to say how to use it, but how to use it within the proper limits, and I just wonder if either or either of you have any thoughts about when you’re when you’re confronted with tools like this, like, what are some of the things you should be thinking about when you are deploying, deploying them, right? So, this student goes from trying to get a little clarity on something to just copying and pasting everything that that ChatGPT spits out. Here, it depends on the context of the assignment but I know that it just going back to my own experience, usually my assignments it’s really specific about what I expect students to do and what I see them messing up as they start to generalize, and, you know, draw on other sources, and it becomes like this gobbly good mess of just abstract thought and not link to their own line of reasoning, their own argument. And so, you can’t have ChatGPT, create, write an argument for you that’s going to actually conform to what the professor is looking for.

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): And so, I want to see your line of, the student’s line of argument and thought. And so, when I see that, in that if you just copy and paste that ChatGPT, it’s not your line of thinking. It’s not your thought process. And so, I would say you stop using it when you find that you’re veering off course, you’re getting too generalized and not re, not reacting to the, not meeting the needs of what the paper or essay is asking you to do, because it’s pretty easy from my side to see when that happens. That’s where students have problems.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Okay, great. So, I have one, one last question. And this is, this is a deep one. We only have like 2 minutes left so, hope so if you want to answer, talk fast because it’s, you’ll probably have a lot to say about this one because I think it’s a terrific question. I’m a student, I’m not yet in my senior year, but I’m planning on getting into communications and media studies. In a world with constant advancements in nearly every field, with humans making progress on a daily basis, how can one stay rooted to their passions and not get deterred by the choices of others while still being open and accepting of others? So, the question like in in all this change, and trying to adapt, how do you stay true to what you really want to?

Sascha Goluboff (She/Her): I think just, I would just briefly say that one of the things that you need to do is figure out what your values are and write them down, and then ask yourself if what you’re doing relates to those values that are important to you so, you can ground yourself in that.

Bruce G. Hammond (he/him/his): I would reference the ever present college university admission process. It’s a variation of the same thing. It’s about your voice, it’s about your identity. That’s what that whole process is about. And that’s why AI ultimately can’t really help you. I think AI people are, well, as AI going to write people’s personal statements for them. I wouldn’t rule out someday. But, right now it’s just not going to, it’s not going to be your voice. And so just forget it. That is not a good use. There are other good uses. Not that, so so I’m skeptical that anything’s going to replace the human the human perspective point of view values, all the things we’re talking about. And so, it’s going to force us really to turn back to what’s really important. And it’s just it’s just another tool that we can use.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Alright excellent. Well, with that we are just about at time. So, I want to thank you both. For a brief but lively conversation. I know I certainly enjoy hearing from you, as I hope those who are watching did as well. For those of you out there at the, at the summit on next up is the Programs Fair which you can enter through the virtual lobby that’ll be followed by the College Fair. Be sure to check out the swag bag feature where you can collect materials from each of the presenters at the Program Fair and College Fair. You’ll find that at the red bar, at the top of your screen, where you can collect documents and materials that the presenters put out. Apologies to those who had questions in the chat that we did not get an opportunity to answer. But once again, Bruce and Sasha thank you very much for being here, and thank you all for being here as well. Everyone have a great day! Thank you!

How to Pick Academic Opportunities

Summary of How to Pick Academic Opportunities

Daniel Boulos, Academic Relations Specialist for Pioneer, introduced the participants in this panel discussion focused on how to choose co-curricular activities: Adam Sapp, Assistant Vice President and Director of Admissions at Pomona College; Chris LaTempa, Director of College Counseling at Moorestown Friends School; and Gregory Manne, Senior Manager of Selection and Global Outreach for Rise.

The first question concerned common misperceptions about the relationship between co-curricular programs and the college admissions process. Sapp noted that one misperception is that there is one kind of applicant that colleges are looking for. He encouraged students to connect their learning and their extracurricular life in ways that interest them. “You know why you’re pursuing it, you’re the one putting in the time and the work, so you want to like it,” he said. “Extracurricular profiles for students all look different, and they should.” 

LaTempa added, “An admissions rep at a highly selective institution once told me, ‘We are looking for students who are interested and interesting.’” Colleges, he suggested, are looking for students who are interested in something particular. Asking deep, thoughtful questions, and finding ways to pursue answers “can really elevate an application.” Manne noted that Rise is intended to help 15 to17-year-old students do exactly that: identify “the intersection of what I enjoy doing, what I’m good at, and what society might need from me.” 

Boulos noted that 16 to 17-year-olds should not be expected to have a fully formed idea of what they want to do for the long term, and asked how might a student who is uncertain leverage that uncertainty when looking for extracurricular activities.

Manne recommended that students join great communities and see what others are doing and thinking in a wide range of fields. From the perspective of an admissions officer, he suggested interesting applicants can speak about things they have tried. “We want to know who you are. We don’t want you to tell us what you think we want to hear.” LaTempa added that “over 50% of students who choose a major going into college will not graduate with that exact major.” Learning what you want to pursue is what college is for.

How should students evaluate possible programs? Sapp shared that choosing a program is a math problem, he said: “It is your interest, plus your time, plus everything else you’re doing, and that equals how you’re going to make these decisions.” Manne offered a check list of questions. “Do I like what I’m doing? Do I like who I’m doing it with? Am I learning and growing?” If the answer is “yes” to all three, you’re in the right spot, and two out of three generally means a positive experience. 

A student participant asked whether it was possible to continue enjoying a passion for the arts, but pursue “soft sciences” in the future. Sapp said, “That is precisely the kind of intellectual balance that you will find at a liberal arts college.”

  • Adam Sapp

    Adam Sapp

    Assistant Vice President
    Director of Admissions
    Pomona College

  • Chris LaTempa

    Chris LaTempa

    Director of College Counseling
    Moorestown Friends School

  • Gregory Manne

    Gregory Manne

    Senior Manager, Selection and Global Outreach

Daniel Boulos 0:00
I’m back. I hope everyone out there enjoy the program fair and the college fair. We are back with our next panel discussion which is all about choosing co-curricular academic programs. We are joined by Adam Sapp, who is Assistant Vice President and Director of Admissions at Pomona College. Chris LaTempa who is the Director of College Counseling at the Moorestown Friends School. And Gregory Manor, Mani, who is the senior managers selection and global outreach at Rhys. So we’re really delighted to have all these folks with us this afternoon. And we’re going to be talking today about how students can navigate, you know that that vast maze of co-curricular academic programs out there. Like our last panel, we’ve got just about 30 minutes. So I want to just dive right into the discussion. And I want to start with a question to kind of talk about the elephant in the room when we’re talking about co-curricular programming. Right. And that is to say that I think when a lot of students are looking at co-curricular programs, one of the questions they’re considering is the impact that these experiences will have on their college applications. Right? How, you know, how will they you know, what, what will they convey to the admissions officer, what programs might, you know, might get might be a better boost for their application? And so, I wanted to start and I think Adam is probably the best person to start with, with this question based on where he’s where he sits in the world. And I just want to ask, if there are perhaps some common misperceptions about the relationship between co-curricular programs and the college admissions process, for example, believing that a summer program housed within an elite university automatically adds a certain cachet to a student’s profile, right. Or the notion that getting published getting a paper published anywhere is going to move your application up a few a few levels in the stack of applications. So what are some of those common misperceptions? And and what do you think some people need to know about them? So Adam, we’ll start with you. And then I’d love to hear from the others, as well.

Adam Sapp 2:08
Yeah, I mean, I think I’m big. First of all, thank you for having me. And they’re convening this panel. I think the biggest misperception is just that there is some kind of a silver bullet out there that there is a sort of one thing that college admissions officers are looking for, or there’s, there’s sort of one version of an applicant that we like more than an other another version of an applicant. And, you know, I think that, to me, is something that I spend a lot of my time myth busting is that when you have thought a lot about what your interests are, and you’ve thought a lot about how your potential extracurricular activities, there’s always more things you can do that you have time to do. But when that potential list, when you’re trying to think about where are you going to spend your time? And how are you going to connect learning to your extracurricular life? That to me, those are sort of the central questions I think anyone begins with and honest answers to those questions, lead people in different directions, not in the same direction. And so the reality is that extracurricular profiles for students all look different, and they should. And for those that are pursuing, for example, academic research, or they’re pursuing something in the summer, or they’re pursuing student government, or community service, or athletics list could go on journalism, I was a big journalism guy in high school, what you hopefully want out of that, is that you are enjoying it, you’re getting something out of it, and you know, why you’re pursuing it. And ultimately, that rationale is the most important rationale because you’re the one putting in the time and the work. So you want to like it.

Daniel Boulos 3:51
I wonder, Chris, from your perspective, as a college counselor, I would imagine that you have a lot of these conversations with your students, you know, when you’re putting together their when you’re thinking through, you know, their, their path through their, you know, through their high school experience, but then also how they, how they presented on the application, what, what thoughts might you have on question.

Chris LaTempa 4:11
And then mission rep at a highly selective institution once told me, we are looking for students who are interested and interesting. So basically, what that means is students who are pursuing their own unique interests, things they find compelling to them, and taking the means to go out and pursue those curiosities. So I think whatever avenues are presented, to be able to discover more what you’re interested in as a student and taking the means to go and dig a little deeper into any area of curiosity that you find compelling, whether that is on a campus with a college professor, whether that’s on your own time doing your own independent research, I think colleges are really looking for you to show that you have an interest in something deeper, something academic, and that you, you know, have the propensity to follow that. And, you know, throughout my work with students, I’ve seen those who are really asking deeper, thoughtful questions, questions that matter to them, and that they find meaningful, and then taking on that extra step of going to find those answers how best they can and, you know, 16, 17, 18 years old, I don’t think there’s the expectation that you’re going to find the answers. I mean, we’re not looking I think, for students to, you know, I achieve published work that is going to be groundbreaking in the field, that would be phenomenal. But I think it’s just asking those questions and taking the means and the interest to find those answers, you know, can really elevate an application what I’ve seen.

Daniel Boulos 5:52
Right, yeah and I think that’s something that that is underestimated, I think in the minds of a lot, a lot of folks out there, like in the Pioneer program, for example, one of the things when we’re going through our admissions process, one of the factors that we wait most heavily is evidence of the student’s like authentic interest in doing research for the sake of doing research, because our program is so demanding that if the students are deeply invested in that, they’re not going to be successful. You know, it just it’s just the level of work required just requires that deep cut that kind of deep investment. Greg, I would like to hear your perspective on this question from the perspective of someone who works with a program that seeks to identify students and kind of support them through their journey when you’re seeking students or when you’re considering students for the rights program. What are some of the things that that you are looking for? I mean, I’m assuming, you know, academic performance is certainly one of them. But surely, there’s a lot more that goes into the equation. And I wonder if you might talk a little bit about what that is. And also maybe just give a quick overview of what Rise is for those who may not be familiar with the initiative.

Gregory Manne 6:58
Yeah, thanks Dan. I want to just echo some of what Adam and Chris have said, I think it’s that concept of students that are interested in students that are interesting, I think would Rise but we offer you the ability to do is figure out what it is you’re interested in, and to develop what you’re interested in into benefiting other people or solving society’s most pressing problems. That’s what Rise is and at the end of the day, actually, to your to your question, then we don’t add, we don’t look at traditional academic metrics. So Rise a program that trying to innovate on talent identification in the space of 15 to 17 year olds, while simultaneously offering an inherently beneficial application process and access to a global community of other youth who are in the 15 to 17, kind of junior sophomore, junior senior year of high school age range, to everyone who participates. So Rise seeks to identify talented individuals in that age range and support them so that they’ll use their talents for social impact in the future. What Rise allows many youth to do especially those that are kind of early on in their high school process is figure out “Okay, here’s the intersection of what I enjoy doing, what I’m good at, and what society might need for me”, that’s what we’re trying to support youth in doing by helping them find purpose. And there’s a lot of research out there that shows that youth who have purpose and people who have purpose are much more successful academically are much more socio-emotionally, healthier, happier, and so Rise help support students through our platform, which you can check out on this link, which I’ll just put in the chat there. For those that are interested in, you go on you join our community. And then you develop a social impact project using your talents. And you don’t do this kind of blindly similar to Pioneer, you’re going to be given an opportunity to develop this through a curriculum through workshops that we offer through experience with our global community. So everyone who signs up gains access to our Discord platform, and they’re able to connect with other youth all over the United States all over the world. We have youth from over 170 countries in our network in order for them to talk about, think about ways that they may use their talents for good in the future. And so we have youth who embark on a variety of different projects. Just to give a quick example, we have youth who use kind of arts, arts mobility, stem, stem mobility in order to address a variety of different issues. So we had one youth who in the United States had experienced homelessness in her past. And so she put together an animated series and podcasts all written and directed and voiced by others youth who had experienced homelessness. And they kind of talked about that experience from the perspective of those that have experienced it and been through it. We have other youth who have done research projects using data to predict earthquakes to predict floods in flood zones. There’s lots of ways that you may use different talents for good and so Rise helps you embark on that process.

Daniel Boulos 9:40
Excellent. Thank you. Um, so that, that actually brings me to another question that I was thinking about. You were talking, Greg about identifying students who have a clear sense of purpose. And I think it’s important to kind of distinguish that from what I think is one of I think it’s one of the most damaging notions out there. or when it comes to the idea of college admissions is this notion that at 16 or 17 years old, you’re expected to have a fully formed idea of what you want to do, you know, for the long for the long term and how you’re going to get there. And I think that that’s something that I think can put a lot of students in a pretty uncomfortable position. And so what I want, and I think it’s fair to say there, there are many, many people out there who do find a certain calling at a very young age, but I don’t think that’s the case for for most people. And so I think the question I wanted to ask is, when we’re thinking about this question of seeking out academic opportunities beyond the classroom, right, and what advice would you have for a student who doesn’t quite know where they’re going yet? And how might they overcome that uncertainty? Or how might they even leverage that uncertainty when they’re actually looking for opportunities to pursue activities outside the school or the classroom?

Gregory Manne 11:12
I’m happy to start on this one if you’d like. I think what we want you to do so I mentioned our Discord earlier. So anyone who joins the Rise community, who joins our program who applies, they get access to a Discord platform. On the Discord platform, their channels, the channels, their channels around philosophy, in the environment, climate change, different academic subjects, history, political science, there’s chat for robotics. So you’re able to kind of just like, start to learn, start to hear, start to discuss. And I think that’s part of the experience, you don’t need to at the age of 15, 16, 17, even 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, even 28, 29, 30 know exactly what it is you want the rest of your life to look like. I think what’s important is that you’re out there pursuing things to Chris’s point originally, that you may find interesting or are interested in. And that just naturally by going through those processes by exploring those areas will make you a more interesting applicant. Because you can speak to here’s some of the things I’ve tried, here are some of the things I like, here’s some of the things I don’t like. And to have that happen organically is always better than to try to force the issue. I mean, I’m coming at this from a former admissions officer perspective, we want to know who you are, we don’t want you to tell us what you think we want to hear. And I think that’s just important to keep in mind. And I’ll put a quick link in the chat with some examples of Rise winners projects we’ve selected, but we invest not in the project and a winner. Right, in the human being who creates the project. A project is just an assessment tool we use kind of like Pioneer, it’s one research project. It’s not what you need to do for the rest of your life.

Chris LaTempa 12:51
I was working with a student last year, and he wrote his essay about how much he loves coffee. So right off the bat, you’re like, it has nothing to do with what he wants to study in college. He’s actually interested in computer science and computer engineering. But he has this fascination with coffee. So he writes about how his dad gets this espresso machine for Christmas one year. And it becomes his quest to develop the perfect cup of espresso. And he talks through the trial and error process and a lot of error like he talks through his failures early on. He talks about going into cafes, locally and even regionally traveling from cafe to cafe, interviewing baristas going on internet forums. And I think what really made this essay resonate was that he had a question, he was curious about something he was deeply interested in finding the answer. So there’s all kinds of reoccurring themes have been discussing already. But he goes to great lengths to find those answers. So to me, I, I love that it didn’t necessarily speak to a career ambition, he kind of tied it together in the end, like, I’d love to incorporate my interest in computer science and engineering. towards further, you know, it, you know, pursuing this quest for the perfect cup of coffee. But essentially, I think, you know, this goes back to colleges just wanting to see students who are curious, there’s a stat out there, that a majority, so over 50% of students, choosing a major going into college will not graduate with that exact major when they leave for, you know, five or six years later. So I don’t think colleges are really expecting students to know exactly what they want to pursue career wise. I think that’s what college is for, in many respects. So it’s more about demonstrating as a student that you are curious about something and can ask thoughtful, insightful questions. And, you know, can go out and find those answers or take the steps to find those answers. I did see one of the questions in the chat talking about like, you’re very, very interested in the STEM fields, but I want to study economics at the next level. I think that’s awesome, that’s great. Think about how you might really, you know, refer back to the experiences you’ve had in studying STEM and how they might connect to economics in some way. How might you study, you know, behavior or the movement of money and transactions within the STEM field. And that’s kind of getting at that intersection. So I love when students can identify, maybe not what they’re going to study necessarily what they’re interested in at a given point in time, and maybe connect that in some way to their future pursuits. But I would say it’s erroneous to guide your application, specifically and only toward a very narrow view of what you see your future being. And I acknowledge I’m coming at this from a very America centric I think point of view and American colleges, universities do tend to see want to see a well rounded picture. I think, colleges, universities, universities, and other countries may want to see more of a specific narrow academic focus, I know the UCaaS system, for instance, but even that I don’t think they’re looking so much at career ambition more as what specifically you want to study at university, and how you’ve demonstrated those interests.

Daniel Boulos 16:14
Yeah, so um, before I move on to the next question, I just want to take a moment, just let our audience know that in a few minutes, we are happy to take some questions from the audience. So if you have questions, if you want to go ahead and start typing those questions into the Q&A, in the Zoom, please go ahead and do that. And I will try to get as many of those answered as we can. But going back to our conversation here. You know, we’ve talked a lot about some of the philosophical perspectives of this topic, right? I identify, you know, knowing, starting from a place that you know, what’s important to you? What sparks your curiosity, representing that, you know, authentically in college applications, but I’d like to talk a little bit more nuts and bolts, right. So the, you know, in the blurb on the website for this panel, we describe this, as, you know, posing the question, how do students navigate the maze of programs that that are out there? And I think, I think that’s kind of an important question to address on a practical level in this conversation. So, you know, I think one of the reasons, you know, we use the word maze is because the market for co-curricular programming out there is pretty saturated, right? There are a ton of opportunities, whether it’s academic opportunities, athletic research, whatever. There’s a wide range of opportunities out there. And like, any market space, some sort, you know, some providers are better equipped to provide a quality service than others. Right. And so, I would ask, if you all have some thoughts, about a couple of things, one, what are what are the things that when students are looking at all of the opportunities out there when they’ve actually thought through some of the things that we’ve thought about to identify the types of opportunities that are right for them based on their interests and curiosity, as opposed to what’s going to bolster their college application, once they’ve made those decisions? And they know where they want, what they want to do? What are some of the things they should be looking at when they’re evaluating these programs? Like what are some of the hallmarks of high quality programs? What are some of the warning signs that a program might not be in their best interests to pursue? And then another, I think even more nuts and bolts question, where do they find these opportunities? Right? Where do they where do you even start to look for them? So I’ll open that up? To the entire panel? So whatever, whatever your thoughts on so how, how do students evaluate these programs? And then also, how do they find them?

Adam Sapp 18:50
I’ll jump in and just maybe talk about the first part of it and, and ask my colleagues to jump in after that. You know, I think the first thing is, if something is asking for a hefty fee to join, I would be suspicious, that’s usually not something that the quality programs do, they’re either low cost or no cost. If there are lots of different kinds of, I don’t know, expectations around they’re going to use you and your experience in some way that you’re not comfortable with. So there are there are definitely programs out there that will ask students for a lot of time and not really give you much of value. If you feel like you’re not learning something as you’re going through it. I think that’s probably a sign that then maybe it isn’t the most quality experience. And you know, I think the reality is, this is a math problem. It is your interest plus your time plus everything else you’re doing. And that equals how you’re going to make some of these decisions. Because at the end of the day, you’re still probably in I don’t know a handful 5, 6, 7, 8 classes depending upon your system around the world. These courses are taking up time as they should. Because your classroom work is going to take up time, you may have family responsibilities, or you may have school based extracurricular clubs that take up your time. And then you maybe you have a job, or maybe you have other family responsibilities that you have to pursue, or perhaps you have extracurricular activities that you started in ninth grade that you don’t want to stop doing. So how are you going to fit in new ones as you move through high school? So these are all things that you sort of have to, to navigate. But at the end of the day, I think my fundamental question would be, am I learning something? And if as you’re moving through high school, you’re joining clubs and organizations, you’re adding things on, you’re not learning anything from that, to me would be the ultimate red flag.

Daniel Boulos 20:48
Yeah. And before we turn to other panels, I just want to comment on something you said, Adam, and I think is really important is the fact that time is a part of that equation. Because I think one of the things that I think one of the misconceptions before and I think one of the misconceptions out there, when students are thinking about their academic profile is they need to have as many experiences on that resume as they can have. And that can actually ultimately work against them in the long run. Because I see the Pioneer sometimes, like the students in our program, who tend not to do well or not to have the best outcomes are the students who are just overextended. That’s something we see year in and year out, the students who end up floundering at the end of the program are those who have, you know, especially even in the summer, where they’re not in school, that’s the time they take on, you know, a seven different programs. Right. And, and so I think when you don’t factor in time into that equation, that it can have important con sequences.

Adam Sapp 21:43
Yeah, I think quality of your experiences, not quantity of your experience.

Daniel Boulos 21:47
Yeah. Excellent. Yeah. Um, did Chris record anything out there?

Chris LaTempa 21:52
I really liked how out Adam phrased this around experience, I think that’s the key, I think any program, any experience can hold value, but it’s really what you put in and what you get out. And I think there are, Dan, to your point, misconceptions about where that value comes from. So for instance, I remember when I was a senior high school, and I other students who do this to one of those like leadership conferences, they invite students from all over it is, quote, unquote, a pay to play. So this was held on a university campus. And I remember I was very interested in law. And this was like a pre law type program. So we got to do mock trial type activities meet kids from all over. Got also to sightsee around the city where the campus was, I don’t think that having that activity in and of itself added much value to my application, where I found value in it, I had an interest in law, but I wanted to learn more about what that practice might be like, I didn’t do like mock trial or anything when I was in high school. So this gave me that exposure, meeting different students. Again, like sightseeing, collaborating, there was value in that I ended up writing my own college essay about that experience. So again, I found value in it. But I don’t think just doing that experience in and of itself gave my application, any sort of boost on the activity section for instance. Similar, a lot of college campuses will host pre summer programs to where you can take a class or two, with college professors on that campus. And I don’t see that as sort of the silver bullet that puts a student over the top or gets them in, I think there’s value demonstrating maybe interest in that college or university, being able to talk about an experience and extended experience on that college campus might help when writing about why you’re applying to that college or university in the application. So there can be value there, maybe it’s giving exposure to a particular academic field that you didn’t know as much about. And now you’re learning more, now you can speak more deeply to why you’re interested in pursuing that field further. So again, those experiences may be giving value, but just saying that you participate in that program, I don’t know that that is adding the type of value that many students or families think it might.

Gregory Manne 24:12
Yeah, I think Chris and Adam have covered this pretty thoroughly, I have one other framework that you could consider thinking about that I kind of like, which is there’s three questions you can ask yourself, “Do I like what I’m doing? Do I like what I’m doing it with? Am I learning and growing?”. I think if the answer to all three of those is yes, you’re in the right spot. If the answer is two out of three, I think that’s also that’s good. When the answer is one or zero, then, you know, okay, I did something because I like the other people doing it, but I’m not learning and growing and I don’t enjoy doing it. That’s kind of silly. Right. And so I think that, that that framework is a framework was actually given to me by a mentor of mine around employment, but I used to use it also to talk about extracurriculars. Because like, if the answer to those three questions is yes, you’re definitely getting something out of it. And even if the answer is two out of three, you’re learning and growing and you like what you’re doing, but maybe you’re not best friends with everybody in the program. That’s okay. I think there’s still something to be gained from that.

Daniel Boulos 25:03
Okay. All right, so we just have about five minutes left. So I want to take a moment and just pull some questions out of the Q&A. I apologize in advance, because we’re not going to have time to get to all of them. But I will try to get to a few of them. And I want to start with this question from a student named Angel. And they write, “I am passionate in the arts, but I want to pursue soft sciences in the future. Can I still pursue these interests?”. I think they’re referring to their interest in the arts, can I still pursue these interests? Or should I look for other passions more closely related to STEM? Now, I’m not gonna ask any of you to answer that question like in terms of telling Angel what they should do. But I’m wondering if you might give some advice about how to think about that question. If you have any, any thoughts about that.

Adam Sapp 25:51
I would love to jump in. Because Angel, you must attend a liberal arts college, my friends, I mean, that that is precisely the kind of intellectual balance that you will find at a liberal arts college. And you’ll find that not only will you not have to choose, but you’ll be celebrated for not making the choice but actually choosing to study both, and for finding ways to think about both either independently or in an interdisciplinary way. And that you’ll find faculty who support your research and that you’ll find friends who are doing similar things in other intellectual spaces. So I would say you be you and find a school that will let you celebrate that.

Chris LaTempa 26:29
Great. Anyone else want to add anything to that?

I think that covers it well.

Daniel Boulos 26:39
Okay. Very good. Um, let me see here. Question, Greg, I have a question here for you. Jennifer asked if Greg could repeat the three questions to evaluate a program. You know what those are, Greg?

Gregory Manne 26:57
Sure. It’s “Do I like what I’m doing? Do I like who I’m doing it with? Am I learning and growing?”. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s not maybe the end all be all. But it’s a really good framework to just kind of reflect upon what you’re what you’re working on. I think a big part of what we think about it Rise. And what I encourage you to think about is just like to be reflective about the choices you’re making an intentional that was the word I used to use a lot when I worked in college admissions, like, Are you being intentional in this in the choices you make around the way you spend your time when you’re not in school, and you’re not doing your homework and you’re not sleeping? Because that’s the free time that you have, which isn’t a ton? So you want to be intentional about how you use it.

Daniel Boulos 27:31
Great. Um, let me see your other I think we have time for one more question. Actually, Greg, this one, this one was probably another one for you. Student Rights. I’m a Rise global finalist this year, and it wasn’t easy to find the opportunity, how do you recommend students to try to find these academic scholarship opportunities where they’re not as prominent in their country? So I think we’re, you know, I think for students who may not be situated in a country where a lot of this information is readily available? Where do students look for, for the stuff, especially if they’re not in in a country where these opportunities are highly visible?

Gregory Manne 28:18
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s it is more challenging, there’s more obstacles, there are more barriers to accessing these types of opportunities, especially outside the United States. For culturally, there may not be as much kind of history around doing activities outside of school, apart from kind of going home and just doing your homework and being with your family. So I think online is honestly one of the best ways. At Rise, one of the other things we’re trying to do and we’re a free platform, completely free to join, completely free to apply. We try to act as a clearinghouse of opportunity. So we have 65 partners and counting from around the world. And we’re constantly, if you join our Discord, we’re just posting, hey, you’re applying to rise also apply, you know, check out Pioneer, also check out lots of other partners of ours who offer opportunities that are that are free or have financial aid and are accessible for you outside United States. So again, you can join that there with the link in the chat. And then the other place, I would recommend, if you’re living outside the United States, Education USA, a lot of times they can pull you in the direction of some opportunities that you may not be aware of. So contact your local office there, check out their platforms online. I think there’s lots now in this day and age with Instagram and social media for you to find ways to get involved in things even if it has to be online. So yeah, I highly recommend kind of those pathways and learning about opportunities that way.

Daniel Boulos 29:35
Okay, great. Thank you very much. And with that we are exactly at time. And so I just want to take a moment to thank our panelists, Adam, Chris, and Greg, thank you very much. Great, great conversation. Apologies to those whose questions we did not get to but I appreciate you all taking the time to be with us today, both here on our panel and out there in the audience. So thank you all very much.

Gregory Manne 30:02
Thanks so much.

Chris LaTempa 30:03
Thank you.

Rural Student Resources and Recruitment

Summary of Rural Student Resources

Brett Fuller, Academic Development Manager for Pioneer Academics, introduced the panelists: Marjorie Betley, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago; Drew Goodwin, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Colby College; and Melissa Rodriguez, Admissions Counselor at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). All three are active in the STARS College Network, a consortium of 16 colleges and universities of various sizes that provides rural and small town students with resources and information about making college choices. 

One STARS program is a monthly webinar that covers such topics as essay writing, financial policies, and how different schools review applications. The different perspectives from the 16 schools help give students an idea of the variety of approaches to these topics. The STARS fly-in program brings rural and small town students from across the US to college campuses for an in-depth sample of college life. Two of the panelists were about to embark on a STARS outreach trip, visiting schools in several midwestern states to introduce the program. 

Betley asked the panelists to describe how their different schools support rural, first-generation, immigrant, and low-income students. Rodriguez answered that in addition to the fly-in program, CalTech has a summer bridge program where newly-admitted students from demographics that are underrepresented in STEM can take math and computer science courses, live on campus with their cohort, and build a sense of community. The school also provides mental wellness support, a peer advocacy program, and free writing tutoring centers. She pointed out that CalTech is itself a small, tight-knit community with much the same environment as a small town.

Goodwin noted that Colby is located in Maine, the most rural state in the nation, and that much of the school’s outreach is to Maine students, who make up about 8% of the student population. One goal is to create a college-going culture in Maine through programs that bring prospective students and families to campus, and that visit high schools throughout the state. Colby emphasizes that post-college planning should start in the first semester, not junior or senior year, and funds internships to give students an opportunity to experience larger cities and research opportunities.

Betley described the Emerging World Leaders program that invites high school students to the U Chicago campus between their freshman and sophomore years. They stay in the dorms, take classes, get an idea of what college will be like, and begin to think about the application process. A second Emerging World Leaders program between the junior and senior years offers a more intensive classroom experience, and focused attention to preparing college applications. Once admitted, students are supported with peer-to-peer programs, and financial help for first-generation students.

In response to participants’ questions, all three panelists agreed that neither a gap year nor a lack of variety of experience because of the limitations of a student’s environment were red flags on an application. Their advice about both was the same: “Context is key. We want to get to know you as a person.”

  • Marjorie Betley

    Marjorie Betley

    Senior Associate Director of Admissions
    Executive Director of the STARS College Network
    The University of Chicago

  • Drew Goodwin

    Drew Goodwin

    Senior Assistant Director Of Admissions
    Colby College

  • Melissa Rodriguez

    Melissa Rodriguez

    Admissions Counselor
    California Institute of Technology

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: All right! Hello, everyone, and welcome to Rural Student Resources and Recruitment. Good to see you all again. Thank you for joining us. I am going to allow our panelists to introduce themselves. So, I’m going to turn it over to Marjorie Bentley from University of Chicago. Marjorie.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Thank you so much, Brett. We are excited to be here. I want to give my colleagues a chance to introduce themselves, so I’ll kick us off and then we’re gonna open it up for questions. I’ll put a few links in the chat, so you guys can follow those and see more of the resources that we have available. But my name is Marjorie Betley. I’m a Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago, and the Executive Director of our STARS College Network. So, STARS sound for Small Town and Rural Students, College Network, which I will talk more about in depth in just a few minutes.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): A little bit about me. I’m originally from a small town in North Georgia. And I think a lot of us really resonate with this work because we come from a very similar background, or that we have worked with a lot of students kind of making that transition from a small town to a larger institution like any of ours, which even if it’s a smaller institution like Caltech or Colby it’s still larger than maybe what you had come from. So, I think that is one of the things one of the many things we’re gonna talk about today in this panel. I’m gonna turn it over to my colleague Drew to introduce themselves now.

Drew Goodwin: Hi, everyone! My name is Drew Goodwin. I’m a senior assistant Director of Admissions at Colby College, which is located in Central Maine, which is the most rural state in the entirety of the country. My background is a little bit kind of the reverse of a lot of my peers that work on the Stars College network. So, I’m originally from a small city in Pennsylvania, and have found myself in small town, Maine, living in a small town of about 6,000 people. And so, I’m really excited about working with rural students, because I see kind of like the amazingness and beauty and fantastic things that our rural area has to offer. And I wanna help students in that area kind of find that next best fit, whether it’s staying close to home like, but like a student like a place at Colby, or if it’s going to, you know, America’s third largest city over in Chicago. So, that’s kind of what kind of where I’m coming from, and kind of my background, and we’ll talk a little bit more about things as we go along and I’ll pass it over to Melissa then.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): Thanks, Drew. Good morning, or good afternoon, everybody. My name is Melissa Rodriguez. I’m an admissions counselor at Caltech, the California Institute of Technology. We are located in Pasadena, California, which is located roughly 15 min north of downtown Los Angeles. I’m also the liaison for the STARS college network. So, please connect with me afterwards if you have any questions.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): But in any case I’m a first gen college student. I love how we’ve kind of ascended from Margie being in a smaller town to Drew in a smaller city, I actually grew up in Los Angeles, which is not a small city at all. But, I was first gen, and I think I’m in this work because I feel very passionate about finding these exceptional students in this this potential anywhere. And that’s something I’ve really enjoyed and been compelled by in my office. So, when stars came along they, they very much were like Melissa’s the person to help kind of guide and support these, these students. So, it’s really, truly a pleasure to be here. And yeah, that’s, that’s me, Melissa at Caltech.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Perfect. I love it. So, you have 3 very different institutions here, which is part of the goal of the STARS College Network. So, the STARS College Network is a consortium of 16 colleges and universities so bigger, smaller, public, private. A little bit of everything is represented within those 16 schools. The idea is to give students the breadth or a taste of really the breadth of what’s available to you out there. There are more than 4,500 different colleges and universities across the United States, and they are all a little bit different. They’re designed that way so that you can find the best fit for you.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Whether you want to live in, you know, kind of rural Maine or you wanna live in Los Angeles, or you wanna live in more of a suburbs like our friends at Case Western in the suburbs of Cleveland. So, you have lots of options available to you. We just want you to understand there are a wide variety of opportunities and options so that you can find the best fit for you when you’re looking for your college home.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Cool. So, I linked everyone to the STARS College Network website, you can take a look at the 16 schools that are involved in the STARS college Network on there.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): And there are a few different things that we really offer that we want students to be able to take advantage of. One is that each of the schools that are part of the network are really dedicated to you as rural and small town students. They are dedicated to giving you the resources and information you might need to make that college choice to supporting you once you’re on our campuses and making sure that you have opportunities and options, especially if you are a student who wants to go away for your education, and maybe eventually come back to your home town. So, we are really dedicated to students in the whole to and through process. Rural and small town students come to us from a really wide variety of places all over the United States. And so you are, you’re going to be joining this really diverse network of students on all of our campuses.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Now, so a couple of things that we offer through that one is a monthly webinar series that we encourage you to join us, and we talk in depth about things like essay writing at different ways that we review applications, different ways that we approach financial aid, financial aid policies, changes to the FAFSA, need based scholarships, merit scholarships, what does all that mean?

Marjorie Betley (she/her): We talk about that in depth. And because we have 16 very different schools represented, you’re going to hear a lot of different ways that schools approach these different topics. So, that’s really the goal of these monthly webinars. We also offer fly-in programs.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): So, for students who come from rural small town high schools they are often don’t have the opportunity to visit as many different kinds of colleges or universities that they might want to because it is really expensive. It takes a lot of time. There’s just a lot of resources that would go into visiting these like 16 different types of school. So, fly in programs or a way that we can bring students to us, we cover the cost of travel. We cover the cost of your time on our campus. You sometimes stay in a hotel or a dorm, you eat in a dining hall, meet other rural small town students across the U.S.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): So, it’s a really great opportunity to test drive college for a day or two. The other way that we’re doing our outreach is by getting on the road and meeting for a small town students where you are. That is something again, that does not happen as often as that probably should. And that way also you don’t have to visit our campuses in order to get to know what the colleges are like, we come to you. Actually, Melissa and Drew are going to be going on a trip next week. To the Midwest. Right, guys? Do you remember the stops? Off the top of your head?

Drew Goodwin: I have them all memorized because it took me a while. Because they’re all new states for me which is super exciting. So, there’s north-west Arkansas, Wichita, Kansas, Lincoln, Nebraska, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Cedar Rapids. Iowa. So, five really great places. It covers 900 miles, it’s going to be like 14 hrs of driving. We are very excited. I have my road snacks already, and we’re ready to go, so it should be, it should be a great time.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): College and universities are hitting the road to get out there. Visit you guys. There’s another trip that’s happening next week in Tennessee, they’ll be going to Jackson, Columbia, Crossville, and Greenville, Tennessee. So again, we’re not going to, we’re not able to hit every single small town across the U.S. But we’re trying, and it will eventually get there. We’re going to visit as many as possible and if you’re near us, go visit them, and meet you in the middle on our webinars. So, those are some great ways you get involved.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): And do you want to open up for questions. If you have questions, please put them in the Q&A. So that way we can see them. First, I wanted to kick off, and I’m going to start with my first question, which is ,so out on our 3 different campuses, how do we support rural students who are looking at our universities?

Marjorie Betley (she/her): How do we support them, to and through this process. So, I wanted to start, not just rural students but I do also think that this is important to think about first generation students, low income students, immigrant students. There are a lot of support systems, and there are a lot of intersecting identities, not everyone’s going to fit all of those identities. But we do each have support systems designed for a wide variety of students. So, I’m gonna start with Melissa this time since I started with you last time. Melissa, let me give you a little bit more about how you guys support those sorts of cohorts on your campus.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): Yeah. So, there are a number of different programs. I think the first one that you mentioned is a real big one that happens before the process, like as the process is just starting, which is our fly in program. So, we’re 2 weeks away from having our fly in programs.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): In the spring, we’ll also be hosting a rural student specific fly in program. So, stay tuned for that. But that is really a point where we can really meet the students eye to eye. We host sessions about application, all of that fun stuff. So that’s just one facet of it. Once students are admitted. We have a program that’s kind of a summer bridge program called FSRI, where students are able to take math courses, computer science courses. They live on campus amongst the rest of their cohort. They kind of build a real sense of community. And they’re all from under represented demographics of in STEM. So, that’s something that really unifies them. Like Margie was touching on there are various different facets of identity that a student might carry with them. And so, we like to put them all together under this kind of unified wide umbrella, of just elevating them with resources that we feel they should be taking part in. In addition to that, we also we have a number of students that and I want to kind of touch on this, the and that’s something that I think, as far as we talk a lot about is the, the sticker shock that can happen with financial aid. We actually admit a large number of our students are either first Gen or low income. I think this past year our incoming admitted class first Gen 18%. In the past 3 classes we’ve had at least 20% of our students be Pel eligible as well. So, we understand that we’re trying to be perceptive to the types of needs of students.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): We always have mental wellness supports that have really been kind of augmented especially after COVID. So, we have not only student wellness services with actual clinical, clinically trained professionals. But we also have a lot of students that choose to partake in our peer ambassador or peer advocate program where they take an over year long Clinical course to kind of become also student focused and student serving advocates for their students as well with peer advocacy. We also have a number of academics cohorts, free tutoring, writing centers. We just have a lot of different opportunities for students to, to seek out help because we’re such a small community. It really is just like literally an arm’s distance away. And I think that’s something that I love to communicate to small-town and rural students is that our environment very much tries to just kind of mimic that sense of real, tight, knit community feel so that it’s, it’s just an extremely collaborative community. And I think that really kind of adds on and impacts the outcome of it just being a an extremely supportive community, despite it also being, you know, it’s college, so it can have its challenges. But we try to do our best to prepare for those things and and offer those supports.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Hi Drew, how about Colby?

Drew Goodwin: Great? Yeah. So, a lot of our outreach at Colby is very much centered on Maine. So, I did mention that Maine is the most rural state in the country in terms of the percent of its population living in a rural area. And so that means that our students are coming from Maine really kind of for us deserves some extra special attention. Because we are, you know, only about 8% of our students come from Maine. So, we really want to make sure that we’re supporting main more broadly in terms of helping to create a college going culture, helping to kind of give students, encounters and their families the proper resources to able to navigate that process which for many people can be really a big challenge. And so, there’s a few ways that we do this.

Drew Goodwin: One is through our main initiative, in which we visit every single available high school in the entire State of Maine all the way from Kittery, at the border of New Hampshire, all the way to Fort Kent, on the border of Quebec, and kind of every school in between. So, I myself am headed to both Portland, Maine, as well as Southern Rustic County, which is like the most rural part of Maine so it’s going to be a very exciting trip later this fall. But for us it also means, of course, bringing students to our campus. So, we started in the main amazing program this past year, called the Polaris Stars Program, in which we were busting students from all around the state. We got 14 out of main 16 counties represented in that program. So, we got students from all over the State to come to campus for a day, where they got to meet with our faculty members, take a campus tour, eat in the dining hall, and then their, their families encounters, got some really incredible information. That kind of helped them through that process and help, help them help their students through that process.

Drew Goodwin: We also have another program called the Early College Planning Program, in which I and my and my team fan out across the state to do college, in person college prep programming, ranging from financial aid to finding that fit to kind of navigating that college search process. So, our focus is on Maine but we are also working to kind of expand that as well. So, I’m on this trip next week through the more rural parts of Midwest which is really, really exciting for us.

Drew Goodwin: But then, once students are on campus we have a really incredible FLI program or first generation low income program on campus that operates on a mentorship cohort model. So, all of our students that are part of our FLI program are paired with an upper class student who is also in that program to help them find the resources, connect with everyone, and that is housed within our pew center, which is our center for diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

Drew Goodwin: because we know that students when they come to campus they bring, they bring a lot of different intersecting identities with them. So, we want to make sure that they don’t, they aren’t running around campus trying to find all these resources that, they’re really centralized for them so they can have kind of their needs met kind of in a one stop shop.

Drew Goodwin: The other aspect of this for us is also our Davis Connects program, which is for all students, but I think that I find that our, our first gen, low income students get the most advantages out of this program, because the idea behind it is that your post college planning should not start your junior or senior year, should start your very first semester.

Drew Goodwin: And especially for first gen and low income students they don’t always think that internships or research experiences or global experiences are for them. And this is a program that really kind of puts it in their face and says, No, these are for you. There’s funding opportunities, and we’ll leverage our personal network. You don’t have to have an uncle that’s the CEO of Citibank to get an internship at Citibank. We have those connections, we’ll help you find the opportunities, help you get there. And then fund those. Because spending, like, you know, the summer in New York sounds expensive. So, making sure that funding is also there for those students. So that’s a little bit about kind of our support. I’m going to kick it back over to Margie. They do some incredible things at the U of Chicago as well.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Perfect. Love that. So, yeah so at University of Chicago, I’m going to talk about the to and through piece as well. Starting with students in their freshman year of high school. So, we when we first started these emerging world leaders programs, we were really focusing on building kind of pipelines and opportunities for students to experience a college campus. And that was the goal of our first few programs. The first one’s emerging world leaders one and is a one week program on our campus designed for high school students between their freshman and their sophomore year of high School. So that summer from rural and small town high school across the United States. So, there are a couple of questions in the Q&A that do ask about international students. In general, our webinars are open to international students. That is totally fine. If you are from a rural area, and international student, that’s great. Please feel free to take advantage of those resources. But most of our programs, like emerging world leaders or the client programs, are pretty much exclusively going to be geared towards domestic U.S students, or may even have a more regional focus like Drew was talking about with Maine and Colby. So, it really depends on the program. But for the most part the fly in programs and the summer programs that we talk about will be geared towards domestic U.S students.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Emerging world leaders one is a great example of that. It is one week on our campus for students, can, you know, eat in the dining hall, stay in the dorms, take classes and get a really good feel for what college is going to be like. We talk about the application process because it is never too early to start thinking about your college application process, and just kind of planting some seeds and we have a leadership curriculum for that one as well. So, that is a really cool opportunity for those younger students. Then we also have a second program that happens between students, junior and senior year of high school. That’s emerging world leaders 2. And that is really an introduction to our liberal arts curriculum. So, students get to take multiple classes throughout the week in different academic areas. The mornings are all spent in classrooms. Really diving into discussions and ideas and having some great conversations. And the evenings and afternoons are all focused on the college application process.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): So, thinking about the holistic review process, writing your essays, applying for financial aid even what you might want to do after graduation, finding the right fit for you in terms of an institution and a major and a career. So, we talk about a lot of those topics during that week on campus.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): So, those two programs are awesome. And then once students are on our campus, we want to continue those sorts of support systems that are for us really cohort based. So, we want students to be able to find other students who might have gone through similar challenges or backgrounds to them and have that peer-to-peer support system. So, the Rural Student Alliance at U of Chicago, is a really big part of that. It is a student run organization of students across the university, both undergraduate and graduate students who come from rural backgrounds many time themselves, or don’t come from rural backgrounds, but think that this is a really important subject and topic. And wanna learn more and create, you know, relationships and partnerships and a better understanding of the design that does sometimes exist in the United States, between rural and non, and like, say, urban America. So that’s a really cool opportunity. Have speakers that come. We’ve had speakers come to the Institute of Politics for that, alumni speakers and again, it’s like a peer-to-peer mentorship support group. So, it’s a great opportunity for students. They also have a quarterly social and get togethers and things like that.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Students also have the opportunity to qualify for a merit scholarship. All of our first generation students automatically receive a merit scholarship of $20,000 over 4 years and then rural students can also receive an additional $20,000 over 4 years. So, the financial support, the social support, you have a lot of academic support as well kind of built in to the rural student alliance, and also your advising systems that exist at the U Chicago so those are really wonderful opportunity too. The through part that is really important is that we want students to have the opportunity to return to their home communities if that’s something that they’re interested. Maybe that’s an internship, or it could be your first job after graduation. So, we have our career advancement department working on creating opportunities, partnering with local businesses or even national businesses that have headquarters or have outshoots of their company in different rural areas. John Deere is a really good example of this. We partnered with them a few years ago to create, I think at this point about 20 different internship opportunities for University of Chicago students to be able to work at the John Deere Company here in Chicago, which is big. Yes, but also at other John Deere locations across the U.S. So, lots of options, lots of opportunities and that’s all I want to talk about right now in terms of U of Chicago. I want to get to these last few questions. Wow, that went by really fast. We’re almost at half an hour.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): There are a few questions about gap year programs. So, questions about would taking a gap year be a disadvantage for applicants. I will speak for U of Chicago specifically, absolutely not. Taking a gap year is great. We are all looking to craft classes with different perspectives and backgrounds and voices represented. Having a year of real life experience

Marjorie Betley (she/her): is one of those different kind of, different perspectives that you bring to a classroom. So, if the majority of students are coming directly out of high school, and you have that realized experience, that can be incredibly valuable to the classroom discussions that are happening. So, gap year does not hurt at all. Anybody else want to jump in for that one?

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): Oh, go for it Drew.

Drew Goodwin: Okay. So, I think, yeah, gap, years can be interesting to see on an application. I will say that, like just taking a gap year to like work at McDonald’s might not be like the best use of your time. I think there’s really interesting programs out there. But even if you’re not doing like a big intensive program, spending a year in study, or a year of service, or something like that, that’s a lot more accessible. I think we hear about like, you know, the Obama kids doing X,Y and Z. But I think there’s so many other like non pay for play kind of programs that don’t cost you money or independence sub studies that you can also do. So, if it’s a year just spent, you know, working with your local Red Cross or working with the local food bank, or something like that. Where you’re not, you know, flying to Bali to do something crazy. There’s a lot of opportunities that a gap year can entail. That’s, that’s not something you’d necessarily have to pay for out of your own pocket.

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): Yeah, same for us. Students tell us, or elected to tell us that they’re doing a gap year after they’ve been admitted. So, it has no disadvantage at all. Right, like you’ve already gotten in, and we would be welcome to embrace you, whether it’s that incoming term or the year after like Drew mentioned. We hope you’re doing something substantial that will, you know, inform your growth and transform you into a better human but no, we, we there’s no disadvantage for those applicants.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): We only have a few minutes left, and there’s one really important one that I wanna address from Amy Li asking about how to be defined for small town? And this is such a good question. It is a hard question that we had originally not really thought about how we would define this a couple of years ago. We dug into it. We have several. We have a working group within the STARS organization that’s also working on creating a really good definition. But for now, the best ways to think about it is the National Center for Education statistics.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): So, through the National Center for Education Specifics, and I can link it in here, they break the United States up into multiple locals. So, things like a city, a suburb, a town or rural area. We are using both town and rural area. When we talk about rural and small town students, so you can plug your high school into there. You can plug your home address into there, and you kind of see if that is falling within a rural or town area according to the National Center for Education Specific. So, yeah, that is the best place to start when we talk about rural and small town. And again, it is pretty broad, rural and small town. Not just one or the other.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Okay, great. We’re at time, Brett? No, I wanted to let you know you still have a couple of more minutes here. We, we can go until 2:05 Eastern. So, I see there’s at least one more question in the Q&A, I just didn’t want you to think you had to wrap up. This is great, so I do. There is one more from Eliza Sayette that I wanted to answer so great question. Just having lack of diversity in your high school to these effect admissions chances? For instance, someone only did some related activities and nothing else. Melissa, I feel like this is probably something, you see, often as a STEM school. So how would you respond to Eliza?

Melissa Rodriguez | Caltech (she/her/ella): Yeah. So, I think that we’re going to get and we’ve kind of been touching on this this whole conversation right? Every student is going to have their own individualized self to present where they’re from, who they are, what they’ve done in high school, what they dedicate their time, all of that stuff is gonna be different from student to student. So inevitably, we do see some students who are 100%, all in on STEM. I call them very pointy because they’re just very, very just pointed in that interest. I’m pointing straight at computer science or bioengineering, whatever the case might be. And that’s wonderful if that’s what they’ve really been driven to explore. Then we’re gonna believe that. And we’re gonna read the application with that in mind. But in addition to that, and I mean whether that’s Caltech or Colby, or U Chicago, we also see a number of students who are multi faceted, right? At Caltech. Of course, we have stem focus students, but we all. They also play instruments. They’re also editors of our school newspaper. They also play sports. So, there’s just so much there as well. So, a lack of diversity isn’t an inherent thing that, you know. We kind of value one way or another. I think it just largely depends on how that student is conveying themselves through the app.

Drew Goodwin: Yeah, I wanted to add onto that by saying, I think sometimes in smaller schools there are like a lack of different opportunities. So, there might not be as many clubs. So, I work with students that are like that. They live on an island off the coast of Maine, and their high school has like 40 kids period. Like they’re going to school there’s like 8 or 10 kids in their grade. And so there’s not gonna be like a million different other activities. There’s not a football team that that’s part of the reason why football is not a big sport in Maine is because the high schools aren’t big enough to have like football teams when there’s only like 200 or less kids. So, we’re also gonna be thinking about the context of where you’ve gone.

Drew Goodwin: So if I, if I read your application and your high schools about 40 kids. When I get applications from Vinyl Haven High School and Vinyl Haven main off the coast. I’m not looking for, like, you know, 80 Gajillion activities, right? I know that there’s not enough students to support there being like 8 different, you know, robotics clubs, or something like that at some of the bigger high schools that I work with, especially in the Chicago area. So, I’m going to be looking at the context of where you’re going and what you have access to, and I’m not going to be comparing to a student from like a big ginormous school in the suburbs of Chicago or a big STEM school in L.A, or something like that.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Context is key. It is honestly the most important part of a review process for a school that practices full holistic review, which all of us do, and honestly, most highly selectives are gonna practice that holistic review, because at the end of the day we want to get to know you as a person. At the last session that I kind of popped in on was also talking about that.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): We want to get to know you with a person. And we are building a community of people. We are not building a community of numbers, or you know paper. It is a community of people. And so, we do want to make sure that we get to know you as a person in the application process, and there’s no right or wrong way to do extracurriculars. There is no magical combination of extracurriculars. Do what you love, do it well. Do what’s available to you, and it’s all within the context of you know where you are, what’s available to you and what you take advantage of.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Well. Alright! I think that we’re now probably at time right, Brett?

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: Now we’re at time. Yes, I know, I know, it went by quickly. Thank you, everyone to attending. Thank you to our panelists. I appreciate you all joining us on a Saturday, and I know our attendees do as well. If they could voice their, their gratitude they would. But I’ll do it on their behalf. Everybody we have another session starting in just a couple of minutes. So, the Role of Mental Non Cognitive Skills and Talent Development will be starting in just a few minutes. So, make your way there from this space. Thank you all again, and I hope our panelists have a great rest of your Saturday.

Marjorie Betley (she/her): Thank you. Bye, bye.

The Role of Mental (Non-Cognitive) Skills in Talent Development

Summary of The Role of Mental (Non-Cognitive Skills) in Talent Development

Daniel Boulos, Academic Relations Specialist for Pioneer, introduced the panelists speaking about The Role of Mental (Non-Cognitive Skills) in Talent Development: Susan Corwith, Director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, and Brian Cooper, Director of Academic Research and Development at Pioneer. Both panelists illustrated their talks with slide presentations.

Corwith began by describing the two pieces needed for talent development: first, the right level of challenge, and second, developing mental or psychosocial skills. These include: academic behaviors, learning to study effectively; academic perseverance, working hard through something before experiencing the reward; learning strategies, understanding how you learn; academic mindsets, understanding the importance of your academic work; and interpersonal social skills, empathy towards others and the ability to cooperate. Research into how successful athletes reach high levels of achievement has suggested qualities important for the development of academic talent as well.

These qualities include: teachability, being open to feedback and focused on improvement; the ability to cope with anxiety, to take some intellectual risks; the ability to handle competition and criticism; being able to develop coping mechanisms; developing strategies for resisting negative peer pressure or stereotypes. These qualities can be developed in the same way anything is learned: by “getting to the edge of your competency, pushing the boundaries.” “You can’t learn what you already know,” she pointed out.

The “five Cs” can help discern if an offering is at the right level. Do I have some choices, some control? Am I working at the right level of complexity in a situation with appropriate challenges? And do I have caring adults as guides and mentors through the learning process? Key to the process is having a growth mindset, and the ability to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).

Cooper noted that thinking about developing non-cognitive skills, asking “what can do the most to expand me as a human being,” offers a different way to look at choices of curricular and co-curricular opportunities. He referred to the list of qualities business leaders are looking for that Matthew Jaskol introduced in the opening session. While knowledge is still important, he noted, the kind of person that you are is increasingly important, and he showed some examples of how “soft skills” such as empathy have practical value in the business world. He also emphasized that the goal of developing non-cognitive skills is not just another way to get a better job, but, as Frank Bruni emphasized in the keynote talk, to live a fulfilled life.

Cooper offered a framework of four points to consider when evaluating a learning opportunity: content, is it interesting to me in some way; process, how will I be learning; product, how will I be expected to show what I have learned; environment; where will the activity take place? Simply doing this evaluation, he said, is already practicing non-cognitive skills. 

A student participant asked what non-cognitive skills universities look for. Corwith responded that community building and openness to new ideas are valued at Northwestern.

  • Susan Corwith

    Susan Corwith

    Director, Center for Talent Development
    Northwestern University

  • Brian Cooper

    Brian Cooper

    Director of Academic R&D
    Pioneer Academics

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Alright. Welcome back everybody. For our next discussion The Role of Mental (Non-Cognitive) Skills in Talent Development, in this session, Brian Cooper, the Director of Academic Research and Developer, Development at Pioneer, will be joined by Susan Corwith, the Director for the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. With that, I thank you both for being here, and I will turn it over to you, Susan. Take it away!

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): Great! Thank you very much, so pleasure to be here. Let me go ahead and get my slides up here and we’ll get going, alright. Hopefully, everyone can see that alright and get going. Yeah, today we’ll we will talk a little bit about the role of these non-cognitive or mental skills in talent development.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): And I think we want to start with what we really need for our talents to develop sort of coming from the, the lens of the framework and education of this idea of talent development. So, and it’s a lifelong process. And in order for this to happen, we really kind of need 2 pieces. And this is this optimal challenge. So, you think about academics or being in school, sort of the right level of challenge. And I’ll talk a little bit more about what that means, because we want to leverage our strengths.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): And then the other piece of this and this is something maybe we don’t talk about as quite as much although they’re really important, are these mental skills, these non-cognitive skills, what some of us in education and psychology put under the umbrella of psychosocial skills. So, support for the development of these is that second piece of the equation.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, I wanna dive a little bit into kind of what we’ve learned about psychosocial skills. And there’s been a lot of research over the last, you know, 10 to 20 years on these mental skills or these psychosocial skills that are so important to talent development and this report from the consortium on Chicago School research kind of put these, these skills into 5 different buckets or categories. Everything from academic behaviors so things that you do when you’re learning to do homework or to study in a, in an effective way, to academic perseverance. So, when you hear words like grit or tenacity, or sort of being able to work hard through something before getting the reward.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): The idea of learning strategies. So again, another piece of study skills, metacognitive skills which means sort of thinking about your own thinking and understanding how you learn. These academic mindsets so how you understand your learning, the confidence you have in yourself as a learner, and understanding the importance of the academic work that you do. And then the final category being social skills, interpersonal skills, so your empathy toward others, your ability to co cooperate in different situations. All of these are important skills that we do have to learn, and what the research has told us over the last decade or so is the good news that we can develop these skills. And it’s really important that we think about these psychosocial or mental skills as opportunities for change or levers for change, when it comes to affecting our growth or our development, particularly in academic areas. We need to sort of have a good mindset or a mindset that keeps us in a learning, in a learning zone, in a, in a way of thinking that we can affect our achievement, and that, combined with these learning strategies sort of how well you know how to study or how well you understand the way you learn best or the way you regulate your emotions. Our set goals all have an impact on your academic achievement.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, what’s been really kind of interesting in the research is what’s been learned from different people in professions and some of the research started in sports psychology. So, there was a study that I have here of Olympic athletes.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): And they were to the researchers were particularly looking at what are the skills and strategies that they point to in their success in how they reach the highest levels of achievement in their athletic endeavors. And it really kind of boiled down to the things you see here on the screen, and they’re probably not surprising to you. But there are things that these athletes have really focused on and practiced over time, anything from their ability to focus, to having hope or being able to set goals to cope with sort of the stress of their environment, the competition. The coach ability is one I’m going to call out because they really felt that it was important that they worked well with their coaches, and they, they took in feedback. They recognized that they didn’t have all the answers. They didn’t know how to do everything perfectly, and that they needed someone from the outside who was working with them to give them the feedback that they could corporate that would change their practice. You’ll see on here things like high optimism and drive, adaptive, adaptive perfectionism, meaning that they set really, you know, pretty high goals for themselves, but not so high that they couldn’t achieve them, or that they got upset with themselves when they didn’t achieve those goals.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, I think there’s been, you know, the lot of research in this athletic area. But what about academics? And that was another set of researchers that were paying attention to these psychosocial or mental skills needed for high achievement in specific domains, different professions, academic areas. And this is some of the work that we’ve done at the Center for Talent Development and over, you know, time and working with different individuals, we’ve learned some similar things. So, if we, you know, take a look at the list of what athletes said was important, and then we kind of take a look at the list that you see here, it’s pretty interesting. There’s some crossovers when I call out here, teachability which would be very similar to that coach ability.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, the idea of us being open to feedback and focused on improvement, understanding that we really can change and grow and develop over time with the right experiences. But it’s important that we learn how to cope with anxiety because we’re going to take some intellectual risks in our work. And that’s really important if we’re going to develop expertise in our areas of study. Being able to handle competition and criticism. What are sort of the strategies when you are benchmarking yourself about against other people who are expert, or at least very skilled in the same subjects in which we’re working. Being able to develop coping skills for stress or anxiety, or times that you encounter things that sort of shake yourself, confidence a little bit. The developing strategies for resisting negative peer pressure or stereotypes that you may encounter.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So again, the good news being that there are ways that we can develop these strategies by putting ourselves in opportunities where we have to practice. And that gets me to this next slide, which is really about the idea of in order to engage these skills or to work on them we have to be willing to get to the edge of our competency. Which what I mean by that is pushing the boundaries of what you already know and can do because you can’t learn what you already know. You can’t develop skills if you’ve already got them, right. The learning environment is what in education we call an optimal match, or being in your learning zone. So, what I called out here is that without an appropriate level of challenge, you can’t learn to study, you can’t learn to manage your time or cope with disappointments or setbacks, because you’ll be too busy just sort of floating through or skating through, and something that’s too easy for you.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So really thoughtful risk taking is key to getting to higher levels of talent development. So, taking advanced classes, participating in competitions, entering accelerated programs, going to a summer program are all things that can be really valuable when you’ve identified something that’s an area of interest or a strength for you.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, when students don’t get to work in their, you know, sort of learning zone or when they’re consistently working environments that are well beyond their readiness, that’s when you start to run into some difficulties. So, I think in this slide, I’m just trying to point out that what for you, for yourselves, when you’re thinking about different environments that you’re in or opportunities you’re taking and this is something that Brian will talk a little bit more about, you want to understand what, what level you’re working in, and sort of move yourself appropriately. So, starting in the center is kind of that comfort zone. You know, this is where we’re hanging out and relaxing and sort of things are coming pretty easily. We feel relaxed and you know it’s, it’s stuff that we’re familiar with.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): But then there’s this next level, which is that confidence zone that you still maybe haven’t learned all of the knowledge and skills yet but you’re, you’re feeling really comfortable and confident in that work. You’re not maybe having to invest a lot of time or mental energy and doing it. So that’s not the place where you want to be all the time, because you’re, you’re again not sort of pushing yourself to learn new skills yet. So that next layer is the edge of confidence zone, or that zone of proximal development which is really kind of fancy. You know education and psychology term from love, by Gatsby. But it really just means that optimal match, that learning zone, that space where you’re working hard but it’s not overwhelming. It’s that place where it’s testing your skills, testing your knowledge and you’re sort of attaching new pieces or new skills to what you’ve already gained. That’s where we want to be most of the time and we certainly don’t want to be in this out of your League zone, where you’re feeling like things just don’t make sense. It’s just too hard, too much time invested. And it’s not getting anywhere. So, if you can sort of understand these different levels and assess where you are at different times, in different places, you can start to make those adjustments for yourself, because ultimately there are 5, you know, C’s. We talk about in the right level of engagement. And this is kind of always what we’re aiming for in learning, for talent, development.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, the idea of having some choice. You know. What are my choices here? Do I have some control, or do I get to as the person in the space get to determine what’s happening next? Am I working at the right level of complexity? Is this sort of novel or new to me or am I getting a chance to engage in some open-ended activities to apply my learning so that I can feel that challenge.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, if you’ve ever been in a time or space where you’ve sort of lost time where you didn’t even realize how focused you were on something until later on. That’s that right level of challenge or flow. And this is all supported by caring adults, those coaches, those mentors, those teachers who can help you get to that right zone and to the next level of talent development.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): And if you’re going to work in this zone, you have to have sort of a learning focus, perspective or mindset. And this is Carol Dweck’s work at Stanford. She talks about mindsets, and so the idea of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets, and none of us are always going to have a growth mindset. That’s just not who we are as human. We have our ups and downs. So sometimes we’re going to be more fixed then we are growth. But if we talk about sort of our long term goals, or our sort of pathway into college and career beyond, if we want to, as often as possible have that growth mindset where we understand that we can embrace challenge, because that’s how we learn. That if we work hard sometimes it’s going to go well, and sometimes it’s not. But we can learn from the times that it doesn’t go, that well, we can learn from criticism. We can find lesson in the success of others and the inspiration of doing this work.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): And so finally, to have us get into that growth mindset it’s really helpful to learn how to set good goals. So that growth mindset comes from setting appropriate goals, goals that are too large or abstract can be really difficult to achieve. So, we want to think about what we are going to call smart goals. And you know, those of us who are kind of in professions we may have to do this for our jobs. But some of these smart goals S.M.A.R.T are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Susan Corwith (Northwestern): So, on the slide here I just have a couple of examples of what these might look like, and these are really simple starting, starting points for you. And you can continue to grow on those and develop those and make them a little bit more complex as you become more familiar with setting these goals. But ultimately, if we do that you will develop the, the mental skills that are required for that long term talent, development. And they will, these skills will serve you well into adulthood. But just keep in mind that these mental skills require time to develop, practice and these optimal match environments which I’m going to turn over to Brian to talk a little bit more about right now.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Great! Thank you so much, Susan. So before I jump into my part of the presentation I do want to just remind you that if you have questions please go ahead and drop those in the Q&A and we will hopefully have some time to answer those questions at at the end of our presentation. So I, I want to really focus on this framing that Susan talked about, about talent, development. And this being kind of a, a lifelong pursuit. And so we’ve talked in some of the other panels today and, and other sessions about choosing activities within the framework of how are these going to help me get into college? And clearly, that’s, that’s very very important, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of that. But I do think that this gives us an opportunity, particularly when we’re thinking about these types of of non-cognitive skills. It gives us an opportunity to take, maybe a longer view, a different view. And to think about this idea of developing ourselves, developing our talents, reaching our potential. And if you were with us for Frank’s keynote this morning you know, he talked about this idea of evaluating opportunities in terms of which one can do the most to expand me as a human being, right? And so this is a, a different way of thinking about evaluating either curricular or co-curricular opportunities.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): And so I’d also like to kind of frame this before I start sharing a few slides that mainly I’m going to be talking as if I’m talking to a student audience. But if you’re an educator or a parent, I’d like for you to think about how you can be one of those supporting adults. How you can be one of those people that are helping your children or your students. To think more intentionally about developing these skills as part of a broader, a broader plan. And again, a broader intentional plan of talent development.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So, with that, I’m going to share my screen. Give me just a second here. Okay, great. So, some guiding questions for this part of our time together. How can we understand the importance of these skills outside of an academic contact? So, we already talked a little bit about this in this idea of a broader perspective, a broader view of talent development. And then how can we evaluate educational opportunities relative to their potential to help us develop these particular types of skills?

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So if you were with us at the very beginning of the session. Matthew Jaskol talked a little bit about the World Economic Forum. And this is a group of economic, finance and governmental leaders, they meet every year in Davos, Switzerland. They evaluate challenges that the world is facing, and they also try to take a longer view of okay, how is the world changing? What are things that we’re going to need in the future? And so here you see their projection of what businesses envision, the top 10 skill priorities being in 2027.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): And so I want to just quickly highlight that you see here, they’re really 5 of the top 10 are fully kind of squarely in this this realm of what we were just talking about of the psychosocial, the non cognitive. And this reflects a change that yes, AI is accelerating. But it’s really been going on for a long time, really, since the age of the Internet, and maybe even before that where there’s been, been a shift in it’s not so much important what you know, although that is still important, content knowledge is definitely important. But what’s increasingly important is who you are, the type of person that you are, the ways in which you, you manage yourself and your own learning and your interactions with other people.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): And so you see here that, that 5 of the 10 are squarely in this, this realm that we’re talking about. And in addition, you see at least 2 others, creative thinking and design and user experience that are built upon or relate very closely to some of these skills. So, Susan talked about intellectual risk taking and, and appropriate risk taking. Well, I would argue, and many others would argue that it’s impossible to be a creative thinker, a truly creative thinker without taking risks.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Likewise, when you think about design and user experience, part of what is kind of baked into that is, is an understanding of other people and understanding of their needs and understanding of how they might navigate a particular app or website or product. And so again so now we see fully 7 of the top 10 and 3 of the top 5 are in this realm that we’re talking about.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): And so, I think it’s really important to emphasize this, that this isn’t just some esoteric, Oh, some, some researchers at Northwestern or other places, you know, are, are talking about this. This is, this has very concrete implications in the real world.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): At the same time, I also don’t want to, to fall into the trap of, say, well, it’s not just about getting into college and swap out a career for, for college. I want to go back to part of what Frank was talking about this morning, about what it means to live a fulfilled life, what it means to kind of become who you fully are meant to be, and I think these types of skills are really, really important when we think about that.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So to emphasize the point that Susan talked about, when I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I had a professor Doctor Gerald Unks, and one of the things that I remember most vividly, he said, multiple times, he said, you learn to do what you do and not something else.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): And his point was exactly what Susan was talking about earlier that to develop these skills requires practice. So, we can’t develop empathy unless we have opportunities to take on other people’s perspectives to engage with other people and learn about them, and how they think. We can’t develop persistence or resilience to challenge if we’re never challenged. So, I think this is a really helpful framing and so what we’re going to go into next is thinking about 4 things to evaluate in learning opportunities and part of what we’re going to be evaluating is to what extent will a particular learning opportunity give me the opportunity or the that, that practice, that ability to do what it is that I’m trying to learn. So, in education there are, there are 4 different broad aspects of a, of an educational experience. And so I’m going to share these as a framework for you as a student, or, again, the parents and, and counselors or teachers that might be helping to support and mentor you as kind of a framework for helping to evaluate these things. I should say that there is no right answer to some of the questions I’m going to be posing, and by that I mean, there’s no single right answer. Again, going back to what Frank mentioned earlier, we’re not looking for a recipe here. We’re not looking for a, a checklist where you can just check all the boxes but we want this to be a framework that will allow you and those who support you as a student to engage in thoughtful reflection, thoughtful goal setting, thoughtful planning, and so actually doing what we’re talking about here is actually a way of practicing some of the very skills that we’re, we’re talking about.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So with that, the one of the first things for you to consider is the content. What is it that you’ll be learning? What is the academic content or subject matter that that’s clearly important even when we’re thinking about these psychosocial skills and so some questions that you might want to think about very intentionally. How does the content relate to my academic strengths? How does it relate to my interest? Both of those are going to have a relationship to your motivation.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): It doesn’t mean that you always have to do something in your strengths. In fact, you may want to explore things that will help you develop other skills. But working in an area of strength and interest is generally going to drive more motivation for you.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So those are important things to think about. Similarly, as we’ve talked about, earlier interests may not be fully formed yet, so maybe you, the answer for you is, yes, I want to do more in my area of interest. But maybe your answer is, I need to do a little bit more discovery. Maybe I need to see what are some things that I could be interested in. Again circling back to what Susan said, will this content be in the right zone for me?

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): You know you, you might not want to take, you know, a, an astrophysics course on Cosmology if you don’t have, you know, sufficient background knowledge that might put you in that out of the League category where you’re just going to be frustrated. But at the same time you don’t want to be spending time on content that you already know. The second big thing that you want to evaluate is process. And Bruce Hammond talked a lot earlier about process. This is, how will I be interacting with the content? What are the activities that I’ll be engaged in as part of the learning, and there are a number of different things that you can, you can think about. So am I going to be in a summer school class on a college campus where I’m going to be in a big lecture hall, and mainly I’m going to be listening. I’m going to be sitting and getting. Or am I going to be doing an independent study an independent research project where I’m doing a lot of work on my own? Am I going to be doing some group work? Am I going to be collaborating with other people?

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Am I going to be doing field work. Am I going to be actually out there, you know, really doing this thing that I’m learning about in a in a much more concrete way? Am I going to be creating something original? Am I going to be modeling and creating and experimenting in this way with maybe a simulation or a lab.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So again, you can think about all these different processes might help you as an individual develop different skills. If you’re particularly comfortable with one area then maybe you need to stretch yourself a little bit. You need to realize that maybe sitting in a lecture hall, even if it is on the most prestigious campus maybe isn’t going to give you the opportunity to develop much in the way of coach ability or teach ability, because you might not be getting a lot of feedback. You know maybe you won’t be able to develop as much empathy or, or the opportunity to collaborate.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): The third aspect is the product. This is another, how question, how will you demonstrate your new knowledge, skills and understanding? How are you going to, to show to yourself and to others what you’ve learned. Again, taking a, a standardized test or a multiple choice test. There is value in that, for sure. But how is that going to be different than giving a, a presentation on original research, or, again, creating something entirely original, designing an app to address a particular problem.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So, Susan again talked about this idea of complexity and open endedness. If you go back to you know that that multiple choice test, not a lot of open endedness there. But doing your own research, brings in some of those ideas about your own control, your own self determination. It can build persistence because you’re going to hit some brick walls if you’re trying to design your own app, that’s going to be an iterative process. There are no single right answers to these things, and that can help you develop some of that persistence. It can help you develop some of that resistance and coachability.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Lastly, you want to think about the environment. Where are you going to be learning? And this can be both formal and informal. It can be physical or virtual. So again, are you going to go on a college campus? Or are you going to be online?

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): If you’re going to a college campus, is it the college in your city, or is it a college around on, on the other side of the country or around the world. Those choices are going to have implications for you. They’re going to move you out of your comfort zone as, as and as Frank said this morning he talked about fit, and he said fit shouldn’t mean comfortable. In fact, sometimes the best fit should be that it makes you uncomfortable in productive ways. So, some other questions to think about with the environment as you evaluate opportunities.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Well, where are the other participants going to be from? Are they going to all be from my school? Are they going to be regional? Are they going to be national? Are they going to be global? Well, why is this important? Well, if we want to develop collaboration skills if we want to develop empathy and Pers, you know perspective taking, then having a more diverse group of students that we’re working with, diverse in, in various characteristics will help us develop more empathy. Will help us to understand others, perspectives in ways that a more homogeneous group a group of people who are like me is not going to help me develop that skill in the same way. And then, thinking maybe more broadly about, in what ways will other participants, including the instructors or the, the professors, the teachers, the adults, how are they going to be able to support the goals that you have for this particular learning experience? How are they going to be able to challenge you? Those are really, really important things to think about. So again, quickly 4 things to think about.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): The content or the what the process, the how, the product, the how you’re going to demonstrate what you’ve learned, and in the environment where you’re going to be learning, and with whom? And again, if you can engage in this kind of thoughtful reflection about some of these questions, either for yourself and or with, with adults who can help mentor you, then that very process you are practicing some meta-cognition. You are practicing goal setting. You are practicing, developing self awareness that is going to help you continue to develop and enhance those skills that will supplement your, your cognitive development. That will supplement that academic knowledge and really accelerate and, and, and jump start your broader sense of talent development.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): So, with that, I’m going to bring Dan back in. I know we, we have just a few minutes maybe to, to hit some questions here not a whole lot of time.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Alright. So yeah, we don’t have time for maybe 2 questions. So, this this first one, I, I want to preface this by saying this, Brian, I know you, you talked quite a bit about, you know, thinking beyond you know what these concepts have to do with college admissions and such. But this, this question that, that a student asked I think is, is an interesting one.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Could you please, and this is for both of you, could you please provide insights into the non-cognitive skills and qualities that universities value? And I wonder, maybe, maybe, instead of thinking in terms of like what universities value from an admissions perspective, maybe think about the kind of skills that might lead to success on a college campus like you might, you might have some thoughts on, on the kind of cognitive skills that are valued on, on the campus so to speak.

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Sure! Susan, would you like to jump in, or would you? Sure? Yeah, I’ll just quickly say, just from where I am at, at Northwestern we talk a lot about this idea of community building. So being able to network with others, get to know other people, communicate, collaborate and the idea of asking questions and sort of problem solving right. So all of those kinds of things are, are really important as well as that intellectual risk taking being open to ideas, to trying new things. You know it’s and is in our DNA was kind of the tagline at Northwestern for a while, kind of looking at things from different perspectives and combining different fields and different ideas together.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Great! So Brian, do you want to, want to jump in?

Brian Cooper (Pioneer Academics): Well, I was just going to jump in. Another thing that you know related to that community building is that that idea of empathy being able to get along with and productively with people from a range of different backgrounds. That is incredibly important in, in any college environment.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Good, great.

Daniel Boulos (Pioneer Academics): Great. So you know and I said, we have time for 2 questions, but in looking at the time I see we are less than 2 min away from the start of our next panel, so I think we will have to end it here. Our next panel What’s Key about Transformative Education will be starting in just under 2 min at 2:45. And with that I just want to thank once again, Brian and Susan for leading such a great discussion. Thank you both very much.

What’s Key about Transformative Education

Summary of What’s Key About Transformative Education

Brett Fuller, Academic Development Manager for Pioneer Academics, asked the panelists to introduce themselves. They both illustrated their talks with slide presentations, and used the details of their own organizations’ offerings to make their points.

Michael Parkin, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics at Oberlin College, began with the question: What’s really the value of conducting rigorous research as a high school student?

Parkin described his in-depth involvement with Pioneer as a four-time mentor, and his new perspective as an administrator working with Pioneer scholars: “I’ve had some of the most fascinating conversations with young people who are writing these brilliant papers.” He identified three benefits of research: helping students to explore their interests, enhance their scholarly abilities, and lay the foundation for career success.

He described how the Pioneer experience, in particular, provides all three benefits. The first is the opportunity for a high school student to participate in a program led by a leader in the field. “You’re not just going to be getting the standard sort of papers to read. This is going to be the best stuff in that field.” You will “conduct your own primary research under the guidance of somebody who does this for a living.”

This close relationship between mentor and student leads to Pioneer scholars receiving a detailed evaluation of their work from a college professor, which is invaluable on a college application. “It is rare that a 16- or 17-year-old would have a document in which a college professor has written extensive detailed notes on your performance in a college level class.” Pioneer scholars stand out because they have already done college level work.

Particularly the rigor of research experience offers long-term benefits for later life. The scrupulous research process Pioneer requires “allows you to explore and be creative…to produce high caliber work at a young age,” making sure you really enjoy your chosen field.

Grant Zhang is Co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Rural Debate Initiative, a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing debate education resources in the rural United States. He also works as an investment professional. For Zhang, debate was his path to success, offering him academic motivation, scholarship opportunities, intellectual challenge, and a way to transform an argumentative personality into a successful career.

He described how he uses the skills he learned in debate in his work in investment. In-depth research is critical—learning how to find all available facts about a topic, evaluate sources for reliability, and organize material in a way that supports one’s conclusions. Clear public speaking, the ability to convey material logically and succinctly to inform and convince one’s hearers, is an invaluable skill in the business world.

In response to the question, “how can an impactful academic experience support your development as a student, a person, and ultimately a professional,” Zhang cited the benefits of critical thinking skills and the ability to present oneself in a holistic way, and Parkin identified confidence in meeting challenges.

  • Michael Parkin

    Michael Parkin

    Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics
    Oberlin College

  • Kelly Mu

    Kelly Mu

    Co-Founder and President
    Rural Debate Initiative

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: Alright welcome everyone to our final session of the day. Thank you all so much again for joining us. I am joined by Michael Parkin of Oberlin College. And Grant saying from the rural debate initiative, I will introduce, I will turn it to them rather to introduce themselves. And if there’s time at the end of the session. We will do a brief QA. And I’ll also do a couple of quick announcements to wrap up the summit at large. But for now, we will focus on Michael and Grant. Michael, if you would introduce yourself.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: Hi, everyone! I’m Mike Parkin. I’m an Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Politics at Oberlin College, and maybe before I get started, Grant, if you want to introduce yourself.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: Hi, I’m Grant Zhang. I’m the co-founder and executive chairman of the Rural Debate Initiative, which is a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing debate education resources to the students of the rural United States.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: Great thanks. So, I’m going to share my screen. I have some Powerpoint slides here. Jump right in. Great. So hopefully you can all see that. Please stop me if you can’t see that. As I said, I’m Mike Parkin, Associate Dean and Professor of Politics here at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, which is just outside of Cleveland. And today I want to talk about the value of research, and kind of start with this bigger question, which is kind of an interesting question and kind of a fun, light hearted question, which is, what’s really the voice of conducting rigorous research as a high school student. One of the things that has amazed me in my connections with Pioneer over the years is that there are so many fascinating, brilliant young people who don’t mind spending a large part of their summer actually engaged in rigorous research, working really hard on research. So what I wanted to do today is, I wanted to give you my perspective. And I have multiple perspectives on this as to why, I think this is a really important and valuable thing to do. So, for those of you in the audience who have already completed something like a Pioneer academic research. Semester. I wanted to just highlight some of the things that you got from doing that maybe that you’re not so aware of. From my perspective. And then for those of you who are thinking about doing it in the future, I really want to encourage you to, to think very seriously about doing it. Because there’s a lot that you can get out of it.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So with that in mind, I should probably preface this entire talk by saying a few things. There are a couple of things that I really love in this world, and 2 of them happen to be Oberlin College and Pioneer Academics. So you’re gonna hear a lot of gushing from me, particularly about Pioneer and I just want to let you know I’m doing it on my own free will. No one’s, you know, asking me to do this, but it is something that I do feel very strongly about and very positive about. So, as I alluded to, I come at this from a couple of different perspectives. The first is as an Oberlin College faculty member. I’ve been a professor of politics at Oberlin for 15 years, I teach primarily classes in American political behavior.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: More recently, in the past 2 years, I’ve moved over to administration at Oberlin. So now I’m an associate dean, and I start to think about what kind of students as an institution Oberlin is looking for. Prior to coming into this office you know, I thought a lot about as a faculty member. What do we look for in, in talented students in my classes. I’ve taught a lot of classes at, at Oberlin in political science, and I’ve seen a lot of students, and I think I have a pretty good sense of what enables a student to succeed at the college level. And then, finally, I’ve had the good fortune of being a Pioneer mentor on 4 different occasions. I’ve taught a class called Media and Politics for Pioneer, to students literally from all around the world. Students from China, various parts of Africa Turkey, Greece, the United States, and it’s been a fascinating experience. So, when I go to address the question of, why might a young person want to do something like Pioneer? I address it from these multiple perspectives as a college faculty member, as somebody who knows what succeeding in college looks like for a student as an administrator, understanding what colleges are looking for out of student applicants, and as somebody who’s worked in Pioneer, I think I have a pretty good sense of what makes Pioneer very successful.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So, let me just say a little bit more by way of background for those of you who may not be familiar with Oberlin College. As I said, Oberlin is a college in northeast Ohio. It’s a selective Liberal Arts college with, you know more than 40 different majors, everything from anthropology and biology to sociology and theater and everything in between and it’s a really kind of selective place where students come with a great intensity to, to learn. But what makes Oberlin particularly interesting is that it’s not just a liberal arts college. It’s a college and music conservatory. And that brings a lot of energy to the campus, a lot of artistic energy to the campus. So, I would argue that it’s a pretty unique place in many regards.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: One of the other things that makes it, I think, deeply unique and this is something I was talking about this morning during the college fair is that it is a place of deep commitment to learning. So obviously, the faculty, like faculty at all institutions is very, are very committed to, to learning and studying a particular subject. But the students at Oberlin have this you know, deep thirst for knowledge. They want to learn and it’s an exciting place to be when you’re surrounded by people who every day get up, just wanting to know more about the way the world works. So, it’s been a great place for me as a faculty member and as administrator, and one that I hope that you know you on the call right now might think about applying to. On, on the other side of it I wanted to say a little bit about my background as somebody who’s worked in Pioneer. As I said, I’ve taught Pioneer class 4 times on Media & Politics, and each time I’ve taught the class, I mean, it’s been pretty similar in the sense that I start with 4 group sessions on various topics that have to do with media & politics in the United States. So, the first is we look at media effects. We try to figure out how media messages about politics are inferred by our brains, how we process that information.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: Then we look at incivility and disinformation in the political context which I’ll tell you. I talk about this in my Oberlin classrooms, and we always have fascinating conversations, but there’s nothing quite like having a conversation about political disinformation with students from all over the world. You, you hear and start to understand things that you just don’t get when, when the group is, is more homogeneous than it than it is in Pioneer. We also talk about digital politics and how candidates campaign online, and a lot of the exciting things that are going on there. From there like many of Pioneer classes, we then go into independent research sessions. And so these are 1 h sessions that I have with each student each week for, for 5 weeks. And you know, on the face of it. It’s easy to just sort of describe it as that. But I really want to pause for a moment and, and really talk about the value of that, and, and how uniquely valuable that is.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So, consider for a moment that if you are a 16 or 17 year old person interested in political science, you would get the opportunity to speak one on one, once a week for an hour about your research. That’s incredibly valuable, and I don’t know where, where, literally, where on earth you could get that. Certainly, if you come to Oberlin you would talk to me about politics, but you wouldn’t get that kind of intense attention.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: And so, as a young person thinking about this program or somebody who’s maybe already gone through this program, I just really want to highlight how valuable that is! Pioneer hires some of the most talented academics from across the country, and if you, as a 16 or 17 year old. Get that person’s ear for 5 h or 6 h to talk about your research that that’s just an incredible opportunity. So I think everybody who has the opportunity should really try to take, take advantage of that.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So, from my perspective as a faculty member who had taught in Pioneer, I can say that I’ve had some of the most fascinating conversations with young people who are writing these brilliant papers. Two of the papers I want to highlight is one student from California, who recently wrote a paper on the narrowing of election outcomes in an age of partisanship. You would think that as the country polarizes more and more that our election outcomes would be spreading out more and more. But in fact, he found empirically that they’re not, and he tried to understand that puzzle, I thought, was a fascinating paper. Also had a student from Korea, who wrote a paper on what he called Blame Journalism, which is an activity that I understand happens primarily in Korea.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: That he took a deep dive into the way journalists cover various controversies that I found really fascinating. So, it’s not just the students who benefit a lot from these, one on ones and certainly the faculty who teach in Pioneer get a lot out of it as well. Pioneer also does, as many of you know, a fantastic job providing additional research and, and training or research training on things like how to write a research paper, how to how to go about finding your materials, your sources and, and I really appreciate the work that they do there.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: And perhaps the thing that I like most about Pioneer is as a faculty member when I’m done at the end of the semester I have this form that I fill out for each student where I basically grade this to give the student a grade. And I answer very detailed questions with what I hope is pretty expensive feedback on how the student did in this class. Now you may think for a second, that well, that sounds pretty standard, pretty normal, but in fact it is, it is pretty rare that a young person, a 16 or 17 year old, would have a document in which a college professor has written extensive detailed notes on your performance in a college level class. As a student. You can then take this document and use it in your application to a college or university in the United States, or wherever you’re planning on studying. The great benefit of this for me meant that I didn’t have to write a lot of recommendation letters, but also it means from my, my administrator hat tells me that this is a very important document, because if I’m in the Admissions office and I see a student send this document in, I know that this is genuine authentic evaluation of the student’s ability to conduct college work.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: There is a lot of other data that is so nicely presented in the way that Pioneer puts it together. So, I think this is a tremendous value for young people and, and for the colleges that they apply to. So that’s the, the background I wanted to give. You also wanted to just sort of dive into why I think students actually do engage in this research and what they get out of it. So, if you’re you know here today, watching right now, I imagine that you have some personal motivations that are highly academic and scholarly. And, in fact, that has been what I have found with Pioneer students, bar none. The students come in and they’re excited. Yeah to, to literally, in some cases meet me at 11:00 o’clock at night, where they are, or 7:00 o’clock in the morning to talk about research. It’s, it’s a brilliant thing to see. But obviously, if you have that kind of motivation, you should definitely be doing a program like Pioneer.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: The other cool thing for me about Pioneer is that they do an excellent job of providing opportunities all across the spectrum. It’s not just Natural Science courses, it’s Humanities courses. It’s courses and social sciences, and part of my role as a, as an administrator at Oberlin is, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate a lot of the work that gets done in Pioneer, and I’ve seen just brilliant work across the board from all of these different subjects. So as a young person thinking about Pioneer, you should be thinking about the exact thing that you’re interested in, because I’ll bet you Pioneer has a class or a program for that.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: The other thing is that if you take a class at Pioneer, you’re going to be reading and discussing absolutely interesting material. And I can guarantee that it’s going to be interesting material because these classes are led by leaders in their field. These are people who know the cutting edge research who are on top of this research. These are probably people who have written some of the most cutting edge research. So you’re not just going to be getting standard sort of papers to read that, that somebody thought, well, this sounds interesting.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: I mean, this is going to be the, the best stuff in that field. And I’ve seen that over and over again. And perhaps the, the final motivation that may be driving you to more something like this is having this ability to conduct your own primary research under the guidance of somebody who does this for a living. You’re given the time, you’re given the resources, and you’re given the guidance to do this really quite well. And it’s, it’s a heck of an opportunity, particularly for people of, of, you know, in their late teens because those opportunities may not exist in the high schools that they’re in currently.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: The second is that you may have scholarly motivations for doing this right. Maybe you’re thinking about college and of course you’re thinking about college. How do I get into college? How do you get into good university and, as I said before this detailed evaluation that gets written by a college professor, you know, on your Pioneer experience is, is worth its weight in gold when it comes to a college application, because it is, it is so honest and pure and detailed, and, and it’s so much better, I think, in my opinion than a, a standard recommendation letter. This tends to, you know, weight towards the things that are, you know you do well, and maybe not talk about some of the other things these evaluations are, are right on point. The other thing is, is that I can tell you by doing these annual evaluations which we do each year at Oberlin of all of the work that’s done at Pioneer, that this is an incredibly rigorous program, and you know it’s easy to say that it’s rigorous. But let me give you a little bit more context here.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So when we evaluate the work, the classes that are held in Pioneer and the student work. One of the questions we ask is, you know, is this a college class? Right not? Is this, you know, a really good high school class? Is this a college level class? And of all of the work we’ve evaluated for more than 5 or 6 years, we have never found a class that’s anything less than a college level class. In fact, we often find classes that are far beyond what you might expect for a first year of college class. Similarly, we also find that the student work is always worthy of college credit. I mean, if you do a Pioneer course, you get Oberlin college credit which you can transfer later on. And so we have to make sure that it’s reaching that standard and absolutely is. And again, a lot of the student work is, is far above what we would expect for students in their first year.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So it is an incredibly rigorous program and allows you to say, listen, you know how I did in high school, but this is how I would do in college, right? Because I took a college class and, and here it is. It also helps to prepare you for that first day of college, right? First day of college is pretty nerve wracking, and you’re going to go into that having done Pioneer with a lot of confidence, I think that you know that you’re up to this task.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: Whereas you may be, you know, starting by other students who are confident, but they’re confident in their abilities as high school students. They were very good high school students. That’s why they got into a very good college, but you would know that in fact, you not only succeeded in high school, but you can also do the work that’s required of you at the college level. And finally, perhaps you’re motivated by some long term kind of job related professional goals, and I think that’s, that’s fair. I mean, we’re all thinking about our careers from a very young age. Now, some of the technical things you’re going to learn and Pioneer maybe you’re interested in Chemistry, you’re going to learn, learn some new fascinating Chemistry. It’s going to take a while for that to pay off in terms of a job related skill or, or getting a job somewhere but it will, right, because it lays the foundation for the learning that you do afterwards.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: And then finally, it allows you to explore and, and be a little bit creative while you’re still young, right? And as you get to be my age, you know, things start to get, you know, really serious and kind of tighten down, and, and you have fewer opportunities to, to change paths. But Pioneer allows you to really do this high caliber work at a young age to make sure you really like it. Maybe you really thought you liked chemistry, and then you took a Pioneer class, and it’s just absolutely going to be your thing like you’re just convinced of that. And I mean, that’s a really valuable thing to get as a young person, and it’s so it can help you start your path. To our success.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So putting all of these things together, it really kind of feels like they’re building blocks, right? I mean, you may be driven by personal interest to do something like Pioneer and I think you’re going to get a lot out of it on a personal level. You’re going to be challenged and you’re going to learn a lot of very important things about yourself. In terms of your scholarly abilities you’re going to become a better student, and you’re going to be challenged to do college level work that I think once you’ve succeeded in that, you’re going to have a lot more confidence. And then, finally, this is going to lay the foundation for the career success that you’ll have moving forward.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: So, that’s all I wanted to say at, at this point. I want to thank you for your time, and I’m going to pass it over to Grant, and then, when he’s done, if there’s time for questions, I’m more than happy to answer any questions that you have.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: Alright. Thanks, Mike. This my little background is going to be a little similar and, and our presentation is going to be similar to what Mike had already mentioned. But you know, from a different angle, you know. Just a little bit of background on myself. I was a debater when I was in high school. I didn’t have a whole lot of other opportunities in my high school to, you know, challenge myself intellectually or academically. Just because those opportunities weren’t really available to me at the time, and debate was really the mechanism for me to do that.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: I was very successful in debate both, you know, at a local and national level and at the collegiate level, and and where I had scholarship opportunities to go debate. For you know, major national universities, and I ended up taking one to go debate at at New York University and you know that role has prepared me for many things. For example, I was a debate coach for a number of years while I was in college and then I’ve kind of transitioned more to the nonprofit side outside of college, you know, working with institutions like the Bay Area Urban Debate League and then starting the Rural Debate Initiative. But aside from that, I also work as an investment professional and the skills that I’ll talk about later. That debate has instilled within me are very, very critical in shaping the way that I both do research and communicate my research to key decision makers for them to, you know, a, a, a pro of investment decisions, or to, like, you know, turn down an investment decision, for example.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: So a, a little bit of a background on me and how debate has benefited me in particular is, you know, coming into to high school I had, you know, relatively low levels of academic success, and low levels of competence. I struggled a lot with bullying when I was in middle school, and you know I was kind of very defeated, and I didn’t feel like I was really good at anything in particular. And what you know, I the one thing that was like a big learning lesson from, from that was like, you know, because I was defeated. And you know I had issues. I had issues with my parents, and I argued with them all the time. So, they ended up recommending that I, I joined debate because I just like argued with them all the time. And in that essence, you know, I joined because I was like, why not? I’m not really doing anything anyways and you know it really unlocked a lot of you know, opportunities for me, because it’s the first time as an activity that I, I joined something that really challenged me intellectually, and I had a community of people around me that wanted to see me succeed in particular. So, a little bit of background on, on what debate is, so the type of debate I competed in in high school is called policy debate. It’s where you have a year long topic and you have, you know, you debate that year long topic from, you know various angles. So, for example, in my senior year of high school, the key, the topic was around, you know, exploration and development of the world’s oceans. And you know, you have a lot of creative freedom for how you want to tackle this topic. You can have conversations about, you know Russian, U.S tensions within the Arctic Ocean from a geopolitical lens you know, militarization of the ocean.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: You can dive into like science and, and like the, the study of, you know fish and other. You know, creatures in the oceans like coral reefs and learning about mechanisms to improve us. Energy policy and solving problems like climate change, or even something salient to your own communities. For example, if you live in California, you have you know there’s been drought in California, and you know you could talk about how ocean desalination is a mechanism to address that drought in California. And because you have this topic for the entire year, you really immerse yourself in all of the economic, political, and critical literature within that topic, to make sure that you’re very prepared to debate and anything that could come up here.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: So, you know, when, when I, I debated for a year on, on ocean, ocean policy, for example, like I really became an expert in all aspects of the ocean policy. Starting from when I was in starting from when I was in, you know, like a debate camp where we really immerse ourselves in, in the topic and, and did a lot of research. And that research could range, you know, across a, a numerous amount of things they could be, you know, research from an academic institution like Oberlin College. But it could also be, think tanks like, you know, the, the Brookings Institute. Or, or it could be from, you know, major, you know, major global companies that focus on, you know, economic research. So, like this could be, you know McKinsey and Company, you know Goldman Sachs, for example.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: So you, you have a broad pool of, of areas where you can pull research to, to support you know your arguments, and that that research needs to be rigorous because. you know, you’re really trying to, you’re really trying to the judges that you have in debate. They’re very, you know they’re, they’re often well trained and they’re often coming from an academic background, so they can know what type of research is, is higher quality versus lower quality in nature.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And debate is not only important in terms of the research that you do, but it’s also an important in terms of the delivery of that research to make sure that it is done in a succinct and impactful way in order to convince your judge that you should win that debate.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And that experience is extremely important in preparing you both for a career, academically and professionally, where you will need to be able to, to logically and succinctly defend the research that you produce in front of a committee of experts. So, you know, I use these skills particular today, you know, in a, in an investment professional setting. And, and one example of this is, you know, I, I made it an investment in transportation and, and logistics. So, you know, a warehousing business that was in the west coast of the United States, and one of the key things about a port adjacent warehousing business is that you know you’re getting goods from elsewhere outside of the country and with the West Coast it’s typically China and the geopolitical interconnectedness of the United States and China, and the tensions that the United States and China had on trade relations was a topic that we had to explore very much in depth and I we had to package the materials you know that we’ve uncovered to our investment committee, which is a committee of experts that you know they’ve made 400 investments in their career, to convince them to support our investment, in spite of, you know, challenges and trade and, and intentions on that.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: So, debate is a very EQ and IQ focus activity that can really help you build a career in any form of professional services, whether that be management, consulting, investment banking or, or, you know, consulting or, or investing. So in that sense, I also wanted to give a little bit of an overview of the World Debate Initiative. You know, the World Debate Initiative is the first nonprofit organization to focus on providing debate programs to rural students across the United States.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: Founded by a group of people that benefited immensely from debate. Like myself. Our, our mission is to use debate, to empower the rural population where it was traditionally very, very difficult to have access to debate before we’ve had, you know, online learning, for example. So, you know, before you would travel to tournaments in person. But after Covid one of the, the great benefits despite, you know, Covid creating lockdown, is that it really unlocks the potential of online education.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And you know, we, we run a lot of our programs online for students that, you know, wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend a tournament in person, because you’ve got very, very long travel distances that make it, you know, logistically impossible. If you’ve got to travel three hours to attend a local tournament.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And you know we have 2 types of programs. And the first is debate programs which are targeted specifically to students within the rural United States which involve weekly coaching sessions with, you know, high quality coaches that the rural debate initiative will provide free of cost, debate, tournaments, and summer debate camps.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And here we have 20 partner schools across you know California, Vermont, and Ohio, and you know we have affiliated organizations, you know, in, in North Carolina and Virginia.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And you know, we’ve been expanding very quickly this, this year is the first year that we’ve actually started any actual debate programs. So, so like my co-founder, Kelly and myself have founded this organization, you know, back in in 2022 and, and we’ve recently being a lot of momentum.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: And you know, one example of this is, we’ve had 26 out of 60 students that signed up to join debate after one of our sessions in their school. The second type of program that we have is a nonprofit immersion program. So, this is a program that it’s also available to non-roll students. And it’s a range of internship volunteer and training opportunities for students to be involved in the inner workings of a young nonprofit where students will learn how to build, manage and fundraise for nonprofits. So, you can visit our Pioneer booth for more details if either of these things are more interesting. But as a little walkthrough what that might entail. So, like on the internship front, we have specific positions in social media, you know, outreach in terms of finding partnership schools or a holistic nonprofit immersion program where you will get into a series of educational seminars and engage in thought provoking conversations like this one.

And we will also coach you on how to build your own community initiatives. Secondly, you can volunteer for the role to meet initiative, you know, 10 plus hours a week, for example, will qualify you, for you know, a world debate, initiative, service award where you can either volunteer as a debate coach or a volunteer fundraiser. And you know, of course, these initiatives helped me a lot, you know. Debate helped me a lot in, in college as well, but you know it really helps you package, it will help it really help you round out your package in terms of demonstrating that you know you’re very, you’re serious about something, and that you have both the IQ and EQ to succeed in an intellectual and professional environment, which is something they care a lot about.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: But that that’s all from my front, you know. Thank you for the time here, and you know, would welcome any questions if we have any time here left. I’m not sure, Brett, but like I’ll hand it back to you.

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: Yeah, thanks so much, Grant. I, I think we probably have time for, for one question, maybe. And, and I, you know there were a couple of questions that were coming in. Kelly answered a couple of questions on your behalf in the chat for you. But my question will be to both of you and, and essentially, it’s a, a summary of what you’ve hit on in different ways and whether it’s research or whether it’s debate or another initiative that’s students can, can dive into. I wonder what you want students listening you, what you want their takeaway to be in terms of how can an impactful academic or co-curricular experience like that, how can that not only support your, your college search process, which you both touched on, but how does it support your development as a, as a student and as a person, and ultimately a professional and I’ll defer to you who wants to start there?

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: I, I could start. So, you know, I didn’t have opportunities for like traditional academic research. But the research that debate instilled within me was like it’s, you know, pretty crucial, for you know how I thought about both college and, and being able to position myself for college. So, you know, like debate, for example, was, was really big on, on developing critical thinking skills. It was very big on developing, you know, critical research skills in terms of immersing myself with a body of literature and identifying myself with, like, you know qualified a credential research as well. And, and lastly, being able to present and package myself in an impactful way to, to like develop a holistic package. So, for example, you know debate a lot of the time is really about, you know, packaging everything in a, in a way that’s convincing and articulate, and that is a way that that can help the way that you shape your college application as well.

Grant Zhang – Rural Debate Initiative: So, keep that in mind and as I journey into college that helped me, you know, think critically about, you know the various topics I was learning. You know, I was in business, for, for example, as an undergrad so we’re talking a lot about economics. We’re talking about a lot about, you know, international foreign policy and the connectedness of economics and business. So that experience from debate, that research experience in that experience, arguing these topics really inform that for me. And it really helps you know how to pull my career as well, which I touched upon earlier. Sorry if that like, we already discussed a lot of that. But you know I wanted to package that in a more succinct way.

Michael Parkin – Oberlin: Yeah, I would say, from, from my different perspective, from the things that I’ve seen, one of the things that determines an individual success is their confidence. And I, I don’t mean arrogance, but I mean confidence. And I think what something like being involved in debate or, or taking a Pioneer class allows you to do is at a young age it allows you to really challenge yourself and to think seriously about what you can do and, and what you still need to work on a little bit. But if you were to complete something like Pioneer in a field that you’re really kind of passionate about, you’re going to definitely be challenged. It’s going to be difficult. But when you make it through and you succeed and you write an incredible paper that is just going to give you confidence that is going to help in every stage from there. It’s going to give you confidence when you’re applying to universities and colleges. It’s going to give you confidence on day one. It’s going to give you confidence throughout your college career, and hopefully, that confidence will carry over to your job search after that. So I think there’s this benefit the challenge gives you, and that challenge can give you a confidence.

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: Great thank you so much. I do have a, a few announcements here as we wrap up not only this session, but the Second Annual Co-Curricular Summit. First of all thank you all again for attending. Thank you to our panelists Professor Parkin and Grant Zhang and I hope all of you will join us again next year for our Third Annual Co-Curricular Summit, which we anticipate being in September again next year. We will send more information as we get closer to that date. A couple of other quick announcements, the recordings for these sessions will be available on this platform. We anticipate for the duration of October so if you wanted to revisit some of the information that was shared today, you are welcome to do so through this platform. You can also get some additional information about Pioneer as well as next year Summit and additional events on our social media channels. So just be sure to follow us there, and I’m told I, I also need to announce the leaderboard here for folks who will be receiving prizes for us for their engagement today with our session.

Brett Fuller, Pioneer Academics: So apologies in advance if I do mispronounce your name. Luckily your pronunciation of your name will have nothing to do with whether or not you earn this prize. But I can announce the top 10 here, starting with 10, and we’ll work our way up Afra Nawar, Ishitta Groverr, Almas Elayyan, Rian, Rian Iwano, Berra Nur Yasein, Mian Muhammad Khalid Rehman, Katrin Flores, Amalia Sardiha, Jingtu Zhang and Ka Pui Cheung are our top ten. You will be receiving an email from us in terms of claiming that prize. Thank you all for engaging with us, and I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of your weekend. Thanks. Everybody.