Scripps College receives national award for Scripps College Academy

by Laura Nolan '11

National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, White House, Washington DC

The two women were filled with nervous excitement as they walked down a White House corridor on their way to the East Room. They passed portraits and photographs of presidents and their families, historic political moments, and special guests honored in White House ceremonies. It was now their turn.

Scripps College Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall and Raemi Thomas, a junior at New Millennium Secondary School in Carson, Calif., had flown to Washington, DC, to accept the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award — the highest recognition for youth-oriented programs. They were to receive it in a special ceremony with Michelle Obama in the White House on October 20.

When the ceremony began, they were the second in the program called to the stage and honored.

“Everything happened so quickly,” Marcus-Newhall recalls, “but during the ceremony, the First Lady was kind, funny, and amazingly supportive of our youth program.” For Thomas, who became an SCA scholar in summer 2010, the best part was when she received a warm hug from Mrs. Obama. “She whispered in my ear that she was very proud of me,” says Thomas.

The Scripps College Academy is one of 15 programs across the nation to receive the honor, selected by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities from more than 400 nominees.

The award was especially meaningful to many Scripps College faculty who helped found and support the program. Marcus-Newhall, one of the founding faculty members, calls the award “an affirmation.” She says: “We always knew that the program was immensely successful and served an important role in our community — both on and off the Scripps campus. It’s heartwarming to have this recognized and affirmed by this national honor.”

The honor for Scripps College comes just eight years after it established the innovative program for middle and high school girls. The Scripps College Academy successfully prepares them for the rigors of college academics and college life through on-campus visits, faculty mentorship, a two-week residential program, and personalized assistance in the college application process.

How did this young program earn such national acclaim and high praise from the president’s selection committee, made up of noted artists such as cellist Yo Yo Ma and actor Edward Norton?

According to Scripps College Academy Director Kelly Hewitt ’08, the College worked together to make the program a success. “It is truly a group effort — with backing and support from the president, faculty from all disciplines, current students, and staff,” she says. “Alumnae have also been tremendously supportive. It is now an integral part of Scripps College.”

SCA began as a two-week summer program for high school girls. It was so successful — and popular — that it has grown into a year-round program with various academic offerings — including a Math and Sciences Scholars Program — fieldtrips to cultural centers, book clubs, and financial aid and college application workshops for participants and their families. The program is offered at no cost to participants. SCA offers additional services through free weekly tutoring on the Scripps College campus and by hosting middle school “College Clubs.” The program now serves more than 350 students each year.

The payoff has been spectacular: 100% of last year’s high school seniors who were SCA scholars were accepted to four-year colleges and universities. Today, SCA graduates are enrolled in top colleges and universities, including Yale University, Wellesley College, Stanford University, Brown University, Smith College and, of course, Scripps College. The class of 2010 has enrolled in dozens of different colleges across the country including UC Berkeley, Occidental College, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and Tulane University.

As word spreads, more and more highly motivated high school students seek to be involved. Since 2008, applications have increased by more than 400%. The SCA Scholars program begins with the summer residential component. For two weeks each June, 45 young women come to the Scripps campus to experience what it is like to live and study at a private liberal arts college. For many students and their families, this is their first time on a college campus, and almost always their first introduction to the unique opportunities of a women’s college.

The pace of the summer program is intense. Students simultaneously produce academic essays while participating in workshops such as creative writing, urban planning, and combating stereotypes. Staff members and students form a community of learners that reaches beyond the classroom, from nightly hall meetings where the young women come together to discuss race and identity in Toni Morrison’s short stories; they join in conversations about what life is like at a liberal arts women’s college. Just as a signature of Scripps College is its interdisciplinary focus, one of SCA’s hallmarks is the wide array of topics and disciplines it covers. Finally, the summer program culminates with the SCA scholars making formal presentations — to an audience of family and friends — of their own research projects on a wide range of subjects from various academic areas.

SCA stresses empowerment, according to Hewitt. “Scripps College was founded on the belief that women deserve access to high quality education. The Scripps College Academy is an extension of this mission,” she says. “The program empowers middle school and high school women to be advocates for their education, develop the skills and experiences to be successful college students and graduates, and become leaders in their communities.”

Through SCA, students receive the tools not only to be admitted into a four-year college, but the encouragement support, and confidence to become strong women leaders.

 

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