Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies programs offer a range of academically challenging opportunities

This summer, middle and high school students who participated in Stanford's pre-collegiate programs explored the rigors of challenging courses taught by Stanford scholars and enjoyed life on the Farm beyond the classroom.

With summer almost over, middle and high school students are returning to school. While many will be telling stories of summer jobs, or camps in the mountains and at the beach, students who attended one of Stanford's Pre-Collegiate Studies programs will share stories of the courses they took, life in the dormitories and the friends they made from all over the world.

Mike AbbottPre-collegiate students Nitya Mani and Nancy Xu

Nitya Mani, left, and Nancy Xu. Mani said she enjoyed the pre-collegiate math camp so much the first time that she returned for a second summer.

Inaugurated by Provost John Etchemendy in 2012 as a reformulation of the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY), Pre-Collegiate Studies serves as a home for a variety of programs designed to serve academically talented, intellectually curious pre-college students. It offers full academic year programs, including the Stanford Online High School (OHS), University Level Online Math and Physics, and Math and Science Circles, and summer programs including Stanford Summer College, Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes for middle and high school, Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SUMaC), Summer Humanities Institute (SHI), Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and Stanford Youth Orchestra.

"In the summer, the Stanford campus is abuzz with a bright, diverse and intellectually engaged group of students in middle and high school having fun learning. We bring them together with expert instructors who share their love of an academic subject with enthusiasm," said Claire Goldsmith, director of external relations and admission at Pre-Collegiate Studies. "Throughout the year, the best and brightest students from around the world thrive in our programs – they may be engaging in deep study in a single subject, exploring new academic areas, seeking enrichment, pursuing Stanford credit or attending our high school as a part of the OHS community."

Math camp

Nitya Mani, a senior at the Harker School in San Jose, California, enrolled in SUMaC after hearing from a student at her school about the enriching opportunities the program offered. Founded by Math Department faculty Ralph Cohen and Rafe Mazzeo in 1995, and led since then by Rick Sommer, director of Summer Institutes, SUMaC is one of a handful of elite residential high school math programs in the country. The emphasis is on introducing students to advanced topics in theoretical mathematics in a relaxed, friendly and noncompetitive way.

Courtesy Stanford Pre-Collegiate StudiesSummer math camp students on field trip

Students in pre-collegiate programs also enjoy free time on campus and field trips. Math campers took a weekend jaunt to Angel Island.

Intrigued by the course content and the entrance exam, Mani was motivated to apply last year and returned this summer. "I loved program one so much last year that I reapplied this year for program two."

Over the course of the four-week program, Mani attended lectures in the morning, worked on daily problem sets in the afternoons and spent time with the 40 other students during the evenings at their campus row house Monday through Thursday. Fridays were reserved for research into a special subtopic of the program that interested the students in preparation for a final research project. Mani's research allowed her to delve in the field of intersection theory, which looks to characterize intersections of many-dimensional surfaces and curves. On the weekend, students went on field trips and had free time to enjoy campus life.

"While I loved everything about SUMaC, I think the people were definitely the best part," Mani said. "I met a group of 40 kids who were as passionate about math and with whom I could collaborate on research and problem research, working together to solve much more challenging problems. The counselors felt more like friends than adults in charge, ready to play games with us, chat about math and help us with our work."

Summer Humanities Institute

Harry Cromack, now a junior at the Collegiate School in New York City, believes he is more prepared for college after attending SHI, a program devoted to the exploration of literature, philosophy and history. The three-week program was filled with lectures, discussions and group activities led by Caroline Winterer, professor of history and director of the Stanford Humanities Center, and Dan Edelstein, professor of French and Italian.

"I would say I have grown as a student by learning new study skills at SHI," Cromack said. "Especially when the work got nearly overwhelming, I learned a lot of time management and prioritization skills. I'd also never written anything the size of a 10-page paper, so completing such a large project will help me later on in high school and perhaps even into college."

Cromack said he was initially daunted by the thought of living with 48 people he'd never met. "But being thrown into that situation was an enlightening experience for me, and I came out having made some really close friends."

He noted that "the scope of people Stanford recruited to study at the program was simply amazing." The 49 participants in his session included eight international students, he said. The remaining 41 were from all over the United States and included musicians, a professional-level opera singer, two basketball stars and even a student of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that includes elements of dance.

"You'd think that with all of the different interests and talents that the students had, we wouldn't be able to find common ground with which to become friends, but surprisingly, the entire group meshed together almost instantly. I think that by the second day I was already as close to a few of the people at the institute as I am with some of my friends at school. By the end of the program, I'd say I was far closer with my Stanford friends than with many of my school friends, even though the program only lasted for three weeks," Cromack said.

Online High School

Rodrigo Madero is from Monterrey, Mexico, and a full-time freshman at OHS, an independent school that provides academically challenging and engaging courses for students in grades 7-12, through live, interactive college-style online seminars with instructors who are experts in their fields. The school draws its more than 600 students from around the world and features vibrant student life. During the summer, students come to campus for an optional two-week program where they connect with their fellow OHS classmates and teachers.

"During sixth grade I realized I needed more challenging classes because I was getting bored, so I started thinking about studying at OHS," said Madero, who entered OHS as a seventh grader. "I can honestly say these two years have been great. My teachers are brilliant, classes are fun and engaging – we're always learning – and my classmates are fun, interesting, cool people."

Stanford Summer College

Alexandre N'Djemba is a senior from San Francisco who attends Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, who first learned about Stanford Summer College through his school.

Norbert von der GroebenAlexandre N'Djemba

As a Summer College participant, high school student Alexandre N'Djemba took Stanford courses in creative writing and sociology.

"My school has an independent immersion program for seniors, and Stanford was really interested in our program, so they reached out," N'Djemba said.

As a Summer College student, N'Djemba took the same courses as Stanford students during the university's regular summer quarter. His favorite course was in creative writing. As his final project for the class, N'Djemba, whose hobbies include writing slam poetry and listening to hip-hop, wrote a story titled "Open," about a college student's encounter with a monster.

In addition to taking two classes in creative writing and sociology, N'Djemba conducted research on the use of social media in NCAA Division 1 football recruiting and explored the campus, including the recreation facilities and dorm activities. "There is a lot to do here," he said.

Students give programs high marks

A common theme for all of the students attending Stanford's Pre-Collegiate Studies programs is their recommendation of the programs to other students.

"SUMaC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet people who truly love math, especially pure math, and learn amazing math that isn't accessible to high schoolers otherwise," Mani said.

"It's awesome," N'Djemba said. "It's seven to eight weeks of hard work. You are taking college classes and you have to be dedicated to learning, but I think that it's fun. And it's stuff I chose, at Stanford, so it's courses at one of the top five universities in the world. Being around all of these extremely intelligent people, it's amazing. And it's in sunny California."

For Cromack, his most memorable moment was not in the classroom but at his dorm when Edelstein, his professor, went up to the front of the room, sat down at the piano and played Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire."

"Edelstein had been a pretty serious teacher for the last three weeks, so just the sight of him dancing and shouting was hilarious. I guess it was just another moment that highlighted how fun everyone in the SHI program was, even the professors."

Alex Murray is a high school intern at Stanford News Service.