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News

Summer humanities program demystifies college

August 24, 2016

Participants and instructors in Carthage's first Humanities Citizenship Initiative are shown at the Christine A. Hobbs Outdoor Learning Classroom.

To a first-generation student like Maggi Rocha ’19, the whole idea of college can be foreign.

Until she went through a pre-college program, she said, “my sister and I had no idea how to write collegiate level papers, engage in an academic community, or even how to write a polite email. I highly doubt I would be at Carthage at all without their guidance.”

Over the summer, Maggi paid it forward by helping to launch the Humanities Citizenship Initiative on campus.

Carthage professors Ben DeSmidt and Eric Pullin welcomed 10 Kenosha students to campus in July for the three-week seminar. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation awarded the two faculty members $25,000 for the pilot program.

Rising high school seniors from traditionally underserved groups examined civic concepts from the ancient world to contemporary times through landmark writings by Aristotle, William Shakespeare, W.E.B. Du Bois, and other prominent Western thinkers. The seminar featured lively discussions, assigned papers, and weekly field trips.

Kenosha high school seniors spent time in the city's Civil War Museum as part of the 2016 Humanities Citizenship Initiative at Carthage.Kenosha high school seniors spent time in the city's Civil War Museum as part of the 2016 Humanities Citizenship Initiative at Carthage.“They get a lot of messaging in school and at home that college is scary and hard, and that learning isn’t useful unless it’s for a job,” said Prof. DeSmidt, who teaches classics and Great Ideas. “In the classroom, we’re working against that message.”

Through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, Maggi joined Daniela Rodriguez ’19, Anna Ptacek ’18, and Katelyn Risch ’17 as paid assistants to the faculty members. They helped to shape the new initiative’s curriculum and then acted as writing tutors and mentors for the Kenosha students.

This is modeled on a program that Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York, has offered since 2009. The school says college application and enrollment rates are much higher among those who complete its program.

HCI participants’ career interests ran the gamut from engineering to law. For completing the seminar, they took home potentially transferrable college credit and letters of recommendation from both professors.

Even if higher education isn’t right for them, students will need this background as active citizens.

“Irrespective of what you want to do with your life, the foundation of any good education involves reading important books that have shaped what it means to live in an increasingly diverse civilization,” Prof. Pullin said.

On the last day of the seminar, the high-school visitors said they were leaving with bigger vocabularies and stronger writing skills. Even college amenities — like all-you-can-eat cafeteria meals and the freedom to leave class — got them excited.

“It’s really helped out a lot,” said Galilea Arizmendi, who hopes to become an optometrist but came in undecided on where to continue her education after high school. She especially liked seeing how the readings connect to modern life.

Katharine Keenan, an anthropologist who teaches Western Heritage at Carthage, and Sharai Jacob ’19 gathered data for a formal evaluation.

Professors DeSmidt and Pullin are eager to see this initiative stick for the long haul. To improve those odds, Carthage has joined Columbia and 10 other like-minded colleges and universities in a new fundraising consortium.