The first week of fall classes will be a little like deja-vu for the Summer Academy 2016 students.
For six weeks this summer, academy students lived in the residence halls, had meals in the dining halls, attended classes, and made connections with their peers and faculty. Designed specifically for incoming freshman and transfer students, Summer Academy allows students to experience college life in a smaller setting and ease the transition into the fall semester.
More than 1,300 students have benefited from Summer Academy since it launched in 2012. This year featured a total of 18 tracks, with three specifically designed for transfer students.
For Gray Creed, Summer Academy proved to be the perfect way to come early and get a head start on classes, learn the campus, and meet peers before heading into Corps of Cadets training, which takes place a week before fall classes start. “Summer Academy was very busy, but a good experience because I learned to adapt to a fast-paced curriculum.”
Creed likens the camaraderie and connections made during Summer Academy to that of a summer camp experience, with the upperclassmen peer mentors as counselors and his peers in his track to his cabin mates. Outside of the classroom, Creed and his track had a tradition of voting on a movie to watch on Friday nights, in addition to playing in a volleyball tournament and enjoying the activities at Frank Theatres CineBowl & Grille.
One of the many specialized features of Summer Academy is the ability for students to select a track based on their major or field they would like to pursue. Gray says he loved his Engineering Mathematics track and appreciated the efforts made by the faculty to keep the classes engaging, such as MATLAB, robot programs, and a group project on renewable energy.
In addition, “the experience I have gained from writing two to three engineering papers a week has definitely been helpful,” said Creed.
Freshman Jacinda Djossou came to Summer Academy not knowing what exactly to expect and even admits that she did not come with a positive attitude.
Halfway into the six-week program, Djossou says she started to see the benefits of the transition. “It is more relaxing and soothing and allowed me to make friends easier.”
She also credits Hokie Camp, which occurs the first weekend after students arrive for Summer Academy, as the springboard to making friends. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and has given me a positive mindset about my time here at Virginia Tech.”
Djossou could not be happier with the Health and Life Sciences track to get a head start in biology, and she also looks forward to diving deeper into the subject area in the fall.
Courtney Thomas, associate director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Political Science, is among one of the faculty who has taught all five years of Summer Academy.
“I look forward to Summer Academy all year,” enthused Thomas, who taught an Introduction to World Politics course as part of Track 8: A World of Change. She and her family even attend move-in day to personally welcome the students. The students become like family for Thomas, and even while on maternity leave, Thomas was determined to keep teaching. “I enjoy Summer Academy so much that when my youngest was born in mid-June 2014, I was determined to teach my Summer Academy classes with my 3-week-old on one hip if necessary.”
Thomas is constantly coming up with ways to keep her students actively thinking, including getting them out of their chairs (sometimes even standing on chairs) and folding activities into the class that help the subject matter hit home. “It's a chance to work with students who are so excited to begin their college experiences that they can't even wait for fall.”
Their energy and excitement is infectious for Thomas. “They often become my best students in other classes, future researchers and peer mentors, and near constant visitors to office hours for ongoing discussions and debates,” Thomas said. “Summer Academy students tend to be curious, engaged, and excited to learn. They bring energy to the classroom that makes every teaching experience different and exciting.”
This year saw the introduction of weekly recitation sessions framed around the topics of goal setting and time management, effective studying, test-taking tips, Inclusive VT, and transitioning to the fall semester. As a recitation leader, Allie Oberoi, executive officer in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, said she feels one of the greatest benefits of Summer Academy is allowing students to find out what resources are available for them on campus.