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Skidmore College

Precollege preview whets appetites

August 15, 2017

From classroom to dorm, dining hall to downtown, concerts at the Zankel to Frisbee on the green, each summer high schoolers in Skidmore's Pre-College Program are immersed in opportunities that enrich their lives and prepare them for college later.

Since 1968 Skidmore has welcomed high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to a five-week session that first launched as the immensely successful Summer Six arts program and then broadened in 1972 to offer liberal arts courses for outstanding teenagers alongside Skidmore undergraduates. Now students can enroll in two liberal arts or studio art courses, or one of each, for a total of up to 8 credits that may transfer to virtually any college they attend later. They can study in fields such as sociology, religion, biology and writing, as well as drawing, painting, casting and printmaking. They are expected to keep pace with the college students also taking the classes, including completing the reading, writing, studio or lab assignments. Along the way, the faculty have opportunities to get together and discuss how to create successful learning environments for diverse classrooms.

Wenqin He and Andrew Vella at SPAC
Precollege students Wenqin He and Andrew Vella join precollege
classmates on the lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center

In addition to classroom work, precollege students engage in optional community service, such as woodland trail cleanup or hand-crafting cards for nursing home residents; side trips, such as a New York City Ballet matinee at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center or the Great Escape adventure park; and sampling of Skidmore's busy summer schedule of lectures, readings, concerts, exhibits and other events.

The on-campus experience is designed to offer "academic rigor and a social environment that fosters opportunities to meet peers with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds," according to the program's director, Michelle Paquette-Deuel. She adds that sharing a residence hall "fosters community and helps students learn to be self-disciplined and manage their time" between work and play. Living with them are residence advisors (specially trained Skidmore students), helping to ensure that daily life enhances the academic experience, and vice versa, for teens who may be away from their parents for the first time.  
This year 67 students from across the U.S. and around the world participated in the Pre-College Program. Many came from underserved high-school environments or will be the first-generation college student in their family. Paquette-Deuel notes, "They are high-achieving, but will benefit from the head start of being at a residential college before they matriculate." Typically, she reports, they perform very well, making the professors and college students "happy to have them here and to exchange insights, ideas and perspectives with."

About half the precollege attendees end up applying to become Skidmore students. Wenqin He, from Shandong, China, came to the precollege program with concerns about her lack of background in a classroom where English is spoken. But it went so well that she's pleased to be enrolling as a full-time Skidmore student this fall.

"I wanted to enjoy my last summer before college," she says. "I love this place. It's really beautiful. I like walking around the campus after dinner. Sometimes I see rabbits and squirrels. There are no tall buildings here, but there are many trees and even a forest. I like living in nature." Also, she notes, "Saratoga Springs is really different from my hometown."

She studied human genetics—she says it was exciting to work in a college lab—with a professor who will become her academic advisor when she starts regular classes in the fall. Realizing that "the challenge is to adapt a new lifestyle," she took advantage of the residential experience to figure out how to budget for her personal supplies and how to use appliances such as a clothes dryer—both firsts for her. Now she says, "In the fall I am going to focus on my college study, and also make some friends with whom I have similar interests."

Andrew Vella of New York City attended Skidmore's Pre-College Program after considering several others. He and his family were so impressed by its support and openness, including for his cerebral-palsy–related mobility issues, that he returned to the program again this year. He also applied and was accepted to enroll as a freshman in the fall. This summer he took a course in religion and culture and a course in media and film studies, both of which he found challenging, stimulating and fun. The program underscored for him that Skidmore is "a wonderful campus in a great town," he says, adding that he really enjoyed cultivating a peer group.

Vella, whose long-term goal is to become a doctor, has advice for other precollege students: "Don't be afraid to say 'hi' to people. Also, don't be afraid to get a little lost; you'll find new places!" —Helen Edelman '74

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