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High school students get a taste of university life

July 31, 2009

What do you get when you bring some of the Valley’s highest-achieving high school students together for three days in July at Arizona State University’s West campus, offer up sneak previews of psychology and English courses, then ask them to submit a writing and public speaking assignment?

You get the ASU Collegiate Scholars: Student Enrichment Program (ASU-CS: SEP), a no-cost university-level experience in a learning community setting designed to ease students’ transition from high school to higher education. The inaugural program attracted 18 high school students from Glendale, Peoria, Paradise Valley and other local high school districts with a minimum GPA of 3.0 who are interested in attending ASU.

“The CS: SEP program gave the students an initial university exposure in a non-threatening, cooperative learning setting,” says José E. Náñez Sr., an ASU President’s Professor, who also serves as executive director for community outreach in the ASU University Student Initiatives (USI) office.

The program’s academic component focused on the theme of psychology, music and the mind. Náñez, a professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, lectured on the effects of music on the developing brains of fetuses and infants. Náñez’s New College colleague Darryl Hattenhauer gave a lecture on writing for the university. Hattenhauer, a two-time Fulbright Scholar, is an associate professor in New College’s Division of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies.

“The lectures were not ‘watered down,’” Náñez says. “Rather, they were actual lectures from English 101 and Psychology 101 that Darryl and I give to ASU freshmen.”

The students also received a tutorial from Tina Drury, one of Náñez’s graduate students, on conducting electronic library searches. Náñez invited Jana Sirotnik, an upperclassman in psychology, to give a short PowerPoint presentation she had delivered in Náñez's Developmental Psychology course earlier in the year.

The students were divided into small groups and received support from five undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants in preparing PowerPoint presentations. Group topics concerned the effects of music prenatally, during infancy, childhood and adolescence, and adulthood. On the event’s final day, the students delivered their group PowerPoint presentations to their classmates, faculty, teaching assistants and parents in attendance.

“The students discovered that even though they never experienced a university course in the past, they are, in fact, capable of doing so successfully if they work diligently and cooperate with their instructors, fellow students and teaching support staff,” Náñez says.

In addition to the lectures and coursework, students received information about financial aid and toured the growing West campus and its apartment-style residence facility, Las Casas. Representatives from ASU University Student Initiatives were on hand each day of CS: SEP to provide information and guidance on university processes and programming.

“We were extremely pleased by the positive feedback we received from the program’s participants,” says Mark Duplissis, executive director for high school relations, and director of the Collegiate Scholars Program within ASU’s Office of the Senior Vice President for Student Initiatives. “The 18 students not only learned about the world of psychology and the connections between that field and music, but they also learned about college-level writing, conducted research, and shared their results. Additionally, they got a first-hand look at ASU’s comprehensive West campus and learned about their options for financing their higher education needs.”

The CS: SEP at the West campus is the first of a series of such educational enrichment programs Náñez and Duplissis will be developing for the university’s four campuses – Tempe, West, Poly and Downtown Phoenix. “We are researching ideas about the best ways to offer this type of experience to even more students in the future,” Duplissis says.

“Plans call for future CS:SEP summer sessions to reflect the academic program focus of the ASU campus on which they are being held,” Náñez says. “Participants may choose to attend a session at a particular campus based either on the fact that they live near the campus or that a specific academic program on that campus appeals to them. I believe that ASU’s investment in outstanding students through such an event as this will be a driving force in their ultimately choosing ASU as their academic home.” 

For information regarding the Collegiate Scholars Program and a way for on-track-to-graduate high school students to take classes at ASU’s campuses, visit the program Web site at