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Commitment, Curiosity, Connection and Community Make CTD’s On-Campus Summer Program a Success

As we look forward to the launch of CTD's 2024 summer programs, we take a look back at last year's successes and triumphs, both in and outside of the classroom. 


By Beth Dirkes 


Curious, bright students looking for a chance to examine a new and fascinating topic, students who know they might find themselves a little outside their comfort zone, these are the students who come to Northwestern’s lakeshore campus to participate in CTD’s Summer Program. In 2023, like each summer before, CTD’s staff have shown up for them with six impactful weeks.


Ryan Mensik, a senior in high school, came to the Summer Program for the first time in 2023. Ryan, who took the three-week Principles of Genetic Engineering course, plans to major in biomedical engineering. But he’s looking beyond college. “I hope to work on medical devices like glucose monitors for diabetic people. I’m diabetic and I use those devices. I think it would be amazing to work on them and see other people benefit from my work.” 


Ryan was encouraged by a friend to apply to CTD’s Summer Program. He was concerned about whether he’d be accepted to the program and about how his family could afford the expense, but he decided to go for it. To his delight, he was accepted and qualified for scholarship support. Ryan was expecting academic challenges. “I thought it was going to be a bunch of smart, nerdy kids. We’d stay in our dorms, do our homework and go to class. It really wasn’t. It was WAY more social and way more fun than that.”


There are many things that will stay with Ryan from his CTD summer. In many ways, it was a rehearsal for college, both for himself and for his parents. Ryan is finding his summer study of genetics brought him insights into biology that make it easier to understand “the bigger ideas” in his AP Bio class. Then there is the beautiful lake view from his dorm room and his first trip to Six Flags. Ryan also enjoyed getting to know his Turkish roommate and the other international students in his cohort. Looking back, he feels their perspectives enriched his own. “My RA was really cool. We had floor meeting every night. We played games. It was just really fun hanging out with a group of people that were all there to do the same thing, even if you didn’t have class with them.” He’s still in touch with the friends he made. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to meet as many people as I did; and I didn’t expect to still be talking to as many people as I am.”


Phoebe Berkowitz feels the same way. Unlike Ryan, Phoebe is a CTD Summer Program veteran, having participated for five years. She commuted to campus, rather than staying in the dorms, and, as an eighth grader, she’s looking ahead to high school rather than college. Still, she and Ryan were on the same page about their CTD experiences.


Phoebe’s summer consisted of two three-week courses: Intro to Journalism and Creative Writing. Like Ryan, Phoebe is finding that skills and ideas from her CTD courses show up in her work at school. “It’s really enhanced my writing skills. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in my essays. In school we do more analytical writing. Those interviewing skills from Journalism help me.”


Phoebe’s journalism instructor put her to work writing about real life issues, including how the air pollution from Canadian wildfires affected people on campus. She loved the freedom to get out of the classroom and interact with others on campus, like the business school graduate students she interviewed. “It helped me apply what I was doing in the classroom and get a different view on the learning environment, hear new sides of a story.”


Phoebe’s teaching assistants also made a big impression on her. “They were very passionate and dedicated to what we were learning. If we were having trouble, even socially, they would always encourage us. Academically, they would support us and answer all our questions. Each of them was so dedicated to the topic we were learning about that it made me want to be even more dedicated. Their energy allowed me to be even more enthusiastic about what I was learning.”


Summing up her summer, Phoebe found she didn’t mind the added work that came with greater independence. And, she will stay connected to the friends she made. “Each class felt like a family for the three-week period because it was a great balance between working and having fun. It’s definitely given me some friends that will be lifelong, which is great.”


Experiences like Ryan’s and Phoebe’s don’t just happen. Nick Kapling and Kevin Warman, who led CTD’s grade 6 through 8 and grade 9 through 12 on-campus programs teams in 2023, worked year-round to make it possible. What does that look like? First, Nick and Kevin curate their course offerings. They balance returning favorites that consistently draw families’ interest with innovative new topics that keep CTD on the cutting edge. They choose which STEM topics to offer and which from the humanities and social sciences. They consider how many and which courses students may take for school credit and how many, though rigorous, will not cover topics in the typical school curricula and therefore not garner credit. They make sure students are well supervised and safe and that they have options that suit their developing abilities and interests. 


Nick Kapling’s favorite new courses for middle school students were Intro to Biotechnology and Comparative Anatomy. In the latter, students learned more about human anatomy by considering how it is similar to and different from the anatomy of various animals. Nick is also proud of Designing for Disasters, an integrated science course in which students designed and created architecture projects to address problems of climate change, such as erosion earthquakes and hurricanes.


At the high school level, Kevin Warman thought Introduction to Mechatronics, a foundational engineering and computer programming was a standout. “Our students got to work in a team setting from the start of the class.” In their teams, students were assessed through challenges carried out by the Arduino robots they built and programmed. Although the friendly competition motivated them, Kevin noted that “students are still eager and excited to share their expertise-- even if they’re not on the same team-- to make sure everyone is successful.”   


An inspired composition only becomes beautiful music when a talented musician plays it; and an inspired topic only becomes a great course when an expert instructor teaches it. So, Nick and Kevin seek out excellent instructors and teaching assistants to match each course. According to Kevin, “We’re able to attract talent from a lot of different places, Texas, England and many other places around the United States. Our efforts to recruit have paid off.”  Bringing onboard new people with the right content knowledge, teaching skill and enthusiasm is a big job. But many staff do return year after year. Nick is especially appreciative of the motivational and coaching skills of the academic and residential directors who headed up her 2023 grade 6-8 staff. “Those two really understood what it means to create community.”


Kevin and Nick worked hard throughout the year to devise and staff CTD’s 2023 Summer Program. When their staff want to come back for 2024 and students like Ryan and Phoebe describe their new skills and knowledge, the sense of community they felt and the people they connected with, they know their work paid off. 


CTD's 2024 summer application opens on January 22, 2024. To learn more about CTD's summer program, please visit the summer programs webpage

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