Neda Davarpanah was surfing the USC Web site when she stumbled upon the Summer@USC Program. She spotted a workshop in creative writing.
Serendipity. She applied and was accepted this past summer.
“I want to pursue writing as a career and will most likely major in something similar in college,” said the Oak Park High School junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif. “I wanted to see what a college class in that subject would be like.”
Her instructor introduced the class to a variety of literary formats new to her. For instance, she learned about flash fiction, a style of extremely brief literature. Stories may be less than a page, or only a paragraph.
“Now it’s one of my favorite genres,” Davarpanah said.
The Summer@USC program, sponsored by the USC Office of Continuing Education and Summer Programs with courses taught by USC Dornsife faculty, gives high school students the opportunity to engage in intensive academic study and co-curricular activities for four weeks during the summer. Students select one course from a wide variety of options including pre-law, science, pre-health, international relations, journalism, business, engineering and information technology. High school students live on-campus (a commuter option is available for students who live nearby and prefer to live at home) and earn three units of transferable USC elective credit. Non-credit two-week classes are also offered.
“The program lets high school students pursue an interest or learn about something they might not know they were interested in,” said Susan Kamei, associate dean for advanced and professional programs. “College admissions offices are looking for engaged students who want to make the most of their opportunities.”
“Summer@USC really has the balance of giving students an exciting, rigorous academic challenge as well as being a fun, supported way of getting their toe into what college life might be like.”
High school junior Erna Muradyan participated in Summer@USC in 2011 and 2012, taking courses in forensic psychology and international relations, respectively. Muradyan, an aspiring political scientist from Moscow, Russia, said her experiences at USC helped her improve her English and explore history and politics — two topics she’s been interested in since elementary school.
“The lectures were fun and informative, but most of all I liked the model United Nations simulations,” Muradyan said. “The course helped us learn the material in a really entertaining way.” Carlyn Williams, a high school senior from Belvedere, Calif., also participated in the model U.N. simulations.
“I was thrilled to learn more about the conflicts in Africa because only a week prior to the program at USC I returned from a month-long humanitarian trip to Kenya,” Williams said. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences I had because no matter where I end up in college, I now know which field I’m drawn to.”
This summer, the program is adding courses in legal reasoning and writing and geospatial sciences.
Led by James Brecher of the USC Dornsife Writing Program, “Legal Reasoning, Writing and Argumentation” will help students understand how attorneys think. Students will learn to write practical legal documents, meet legal experts and law school students, and attend proceedings of the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals and the 2nd District Court of Appeal held in Los Angeles.
Brecher’s goals for the class are to develop students’ critical reasoning, persuasive writing skills and teach them to write at a college level. They’ll be analyzing real cases, extrapolating the law and building arguments.
“We’ll be looking at the way the law works in the real world—how an attorney gets up and argues a case, what advanced persuasive writing is,” Brecher said. “We’ll also be talking to law school students and administrators to learn how students interested in law school can successfully prepare in high school and college.”
Another new course, “Navigating Our World: Science, Digital Mapping and Communication,” will teach students how geographic information science technologies can be used to understand their surroundings.
Under the guidance of Darren Ruddell, lecturer in the Spatial Sciences Institute in USC Dornsife, students will collect data in the field using global positioning systems (GPS) and other tools, and learn to use state-of-the-art spatial analysis software. They will synthesize their findings to reveal information about people and their environment.
“Students will have the flexibility to express their particular interest,” Ruddell said. “If they’re interested in urban planning, we could collect data on green spaces. If they want to learn about bike paths or public transportation, we can tailor our data collection to those interests.”
Ruddell said students will develop spatial thinking and technological skills that will be beneficial in any discipline. “Whether students are interested in medicine, geography, biology, anthropology, economics or the humanities, these skills are going to be transferable.”
In addition to the courses, students will participate in workshops that help them prepare for the college application process and for a career. Excursions to Los Angeles-area attractions are planned for weekends.
Reid Thom, a senior at North High School in Torrance, Calif., said the program taught him about life in college and reinforced his desire to be a Trojan. Both of his parents and two older sisters are Trojans, and Thom has applied to USC for the Fall 2013 admission.
“My experience on campus this summer really solidified my personal interest in USC,” he said, jokingly adding, “outside of the personal pressure to attend.” For Davarpanah, her most important take-away lesson was learning that she could handle the college experience.
“To many high school students, college is this abstract idea, this elusive goal that doesn't seem possible to reach sometimes because we are so absorbed by the process of getting there. Summer@USC reminded me what exactly it is that I am working toward and showed me that I only have wonderful experiences ahead of me.”