Holding tight to a video camera aimed at his face, high school junior Simon Young became a blur of motion earlier this month, whirling on a whimsical stool in the University of Mary Washington’s Hurley Convergence Center. The experience and its result – a panoramic portrayal of Simon’s dizzying ride on the curious chair – was part of a lesson in virtual and augmented reality.
Billed as an exploration of science fact rather than science fiction, the class was one of several – from kitchen chemistry to computational physics – available to rising 10th- through 12th-graders who took part in UMW’s weeklong Summer Enrichment Program (SEP). Packed with immersive instruction and high-impact activities, the unique residential program creates a microcosm of college, giving teens a taste of how it feels to live and learn on campus.
“I wanted a snapshot of college life,” said Zack Roland, a senior at Stafford’s Mountain View High School. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
More than 70 teens from across Virginia, plus Maryland, Ohio and New York, signed up for the chance to sample life as Mary Washington students. Many are set to become the first in their families to attend college, said Senior Lecturer of Biological Sciences Michael Stebar, who found himself in that same situation when he finished high school.
“I would have benefited from the experiences a program like this provides,” said Stebar, who co-directs SEP with Associate Professor of Communication and Digital Studies Elizabeth Johnson-Young. “How do you interact with professors? What’s it like having a roommate?”
Two to a room, campers moved into recently renovated Willard Hall, to settle in for their compact college stay. They ate in the University Center dining hall, trekked across campus and took field trips to George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Alum Spring Park. “It was exciting to see them engage throughout the University and Fredericksburg while forming close friendships,” Johnson-Young said.
The students chose from an array of courses loaded with hands-on exercises and lessons in technology. More leisurely late-day activities – a geocaching-type scavenger hunt, a tour of UMW’s art galleries, yoga and hip-hop classes, and tutorials on headline writing and happiness journaling – fostered connections among campers.
A special SEP sub-program, UMW’s Teachers for Tomorrow Summer Institute hosted by the College of Education, attracted high-schoolers who want to be educators, like Kennedy Roberts of Haymarket, Virginia. Based on Virginia’s initiative to draw students into teaching careers, this year’s curriculum focused on engaging diverse learners.
Other participants explored a range of disciplines, studying historic preservation, decoding secret languages, making original maps, running virtual businesses and creating electronic music. A grant from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative NoVa Node allowed for an extra immersive “Introduction to Cybersecurity” class, giving campers a rich glimpse at a rapidly growing field.
“The future is now,” said Assistant Professor of Communication and Digital Studies Brenta Blevins, who led the virtual and augmented reality session. “Our SEP folks are going to be the ones creating that future.”