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First-ever Virginia Tech Summer Academy provides foundation for program's success, future improvement


Students visit Kentland Farm for class field trip Virginia Tech Summer Academy students who took classes in Track 3: Architecture and Design went on field trips throughout the program to take photographs, sketch, and think about design. This trip was to Kentland Farm, which is owned by Virginia Tech.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 13, 2012 – Plans for the second cohort of Virginia Tech Summer Academy students are already under way, as the program planners reflect on the first year’s implementation.

The organizers presented at the Virginia Tech Board of Visitor’s Academic Affairs Committee earlier this week.

This summer, 126 students participated in the program. The academy allowed those students to move to campus in July, earn course credit in a small-class environment, and learn about campus resources to promote academic and personal success.

About two-thirds of participating students were men and one-third were women. Sixty-five percent hailed from Virginia, while 35 percent came from out-of-state, including those as far away as Alaska, California, and Texas. Nine percent of participants were first-generation college students.

Students enrolled in 13 different learning tracks associating two courses in discipline-specific areas. Some earned credit towards their major, while others fulfilled general education requirements. Faculty members in each track collaborated to integrate learning objectives in the two courses. While academically rigorous, students earned an average grade point of 3.4 (on a 4.0 scale).

George Simmons, Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences in the College of Science, taught biology for students in the nutrition life sciences track. “I think this is one of the greatest things to happen at the university since I have been here,” said Simmons.

Simmons used his small class as an opportunity to try a few new things that are not possible in his typically large classes, such as a botany bicycle field trip on the Huckleberry Trail. “When was the last time I had seven students in one class? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a class that small.” Despite the change, Simmons says he tried to prepare students for the much larger classes in which they may be enroll this fall. “I tried to teach this class as if I was teaching 700 students to get them ready for the culture of other classes to come. I encouraged them to shake a professor’s hand after the lecture and utilize office hours or make appointments to stand out.”

Outside of the classroom, students participated in workshops and seminars to become better acquainted with the university and its academic support resources. Sessions also highlighted tactics for transitioning to the demands of college. New student orientation activities were incorporated into the academy schedule.

Peer mentors selected and trained by the Dean of Students Office provided summer academy participants with guidance and community building activities as well as opportunities for fun by coordinating social activities and trips off campus to go hiking and tubing.

“Coming to summer academy has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, besides deciding to come to Virginia Tech,” said Joe Jajonie of Virginia Beach, Va., a freshman in university studies. “This whole program is really about getting settled down at Virginia Tech. It’s been great to get this chance to adjust myself to the culture and meet friends.”

Parents also praised the benefits of an early transition to the first semester of college. “As a parent, I think the workshops, small classes, and expanded orientation have given my son a jump-start to his freshman year,” said Capt. Joseph Kelly, a parent from North Carolina. “This gives him the flexibility over the course of his four years to explore a minor, graduate early, or just take some fun classes.”

Organizers say they hope to build on the successes of the first academy to make the second year even better. “With a longer period of time to plan and promote, we hope to increase interest among our applicants and those ultimately accepted to the university to develop a larger cohort,” said Wanda Hankins Dean, assistant vice president for enrollment and degree management. “We are organizing new learning tracks to support progress toward degree requirements for our first-year students, while also exploring opportunities to expand the academy to transfer students, so all new Hokies can have a unique and improved transition to academics and life at Virginia Tech.”

“Virginia Tech Summer Academy supports several state and university goals and initiatives,” said Daniel Wubah, vice president for undergraduate education and deputy provost. “For students, it can be a tool to facilitate progress towards a degree while gaining a sense of community from the university. For faculty, it allows an opportunity for collaboration within and outside their disciplines to create unique learning experiences. In addition, the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011, know as ‘Top Jobs 21,’ challenges institutions to create programs to promote progress toward the degree, enhance enrollment of underrepresented populations, and optimize physical resources beyond the traditional semester. The signature Summer Academy program is one key foundational step in fulfilling the goals of the Top Jobs 21 legislation.”

Prospective students will receive information about summer academy in admissions materials, including the application for admission. Interested students can visit the Virginia Tech Summer Academy website for more information.

What is Scieneering?

Virginia Tech, through funding from a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Grant, offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate studies and research program. Current Scieneers come from more than 10 majors and perform interdisciplinary research under the direction of more than 100 voluntary faculty mentors in an opposite discipline.

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