Students stray from STEM norm, pursue humanities-focused summer programs

May 20, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar

Although Saratoga High has a reputation for being STEM-centered, many students have decided to pursue humanities programs over the typical math and science programs this summer.

Junior Sathvik Kaliyur plans to attend the Stanford Humanities Institute and junior Shivam Mani applied to the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) and the Chinese Summer Program by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). Junior Sandhya Sundaram also applied to TASP and was accepted. All three of these humanities programs are prestigious opportunities for high school students.

The Stanford Humanities Institute offers two three-week sessions where Stanford professors teach interdisciplinary humanities topics such as racial identity, happiness and revolutions to a class of approximately 30 high school students.  

Kaliyur will be taking “Revolutions,” a course where students compare revolutions across history and compile their knowledge in a historical research paper. The course is a part of the institute’s first session, which takes place from June 2 to July 12 and costs $6,200.

As a member of the Quiz Bowl and History Bowl teams, Kaliyur applied to the camp since he was interested in learning more about history.

“I also heard it was prestigious, and I like history and historical research,” Kaliyur said. “The camp would give me a deeper understanding of history and further develop my research skills.”

The program fits with his interest in the humanities, which he hopes to pursue in the future as a campaign consultant or political advisor. While Kaliyur found the Stanford Humanities Institute to fit his interests the best, Mani and Sundaram found TASP more appealing.

TASP is one of the most prestigious humanities programs available. An article on MultiplyIQ lists it as the second most prestigious program in the U.S., ahead of even the Research Science Institute (RSI), arguably the most prestigious science program.

TASP is a free six-week program from June 23 to Aug. 3 exclusively for juniors that provides seminars led by faculty members. The seminars focus on topics such as the evolution of art and culture, civil rights, gender roles and the creation of poetry. After professors give students a base of primary sources and background information, students are asked to form their own opinions about a subject, participate in discussions and complete various writing assignments. The program is held at Cornell University, University of Maryland and University of Michigan.

Mani’s first choice was one of the seminars held at Cornell University called “Freedom Summer,” which focuses on the 1964 Mississippi Project that attempted to combat white supremacy and racial terrorism. This seminar was especially appealing to him since he is interested in civil rights. He had also learned about the project in AP U.S. History and History in Film.

“I applied because I felt that TASP was a rigorous academic program that would allow me to converse and discuss the topics that I’m interested in with people who are equally as interested,” Mani said.

Mani said that TASP would help him with critical thinking and allow him to grow as a person. Although he was not accepted to the program, he felt the application process itself was rewarding. TASP’s application is special in that it does not require applicants to submit a transcript. Rather, the selection process is based solely on the applicant’s ability to convey their thoughts on the thought-provoking essay prompts.

“I like questions that make me think, and the application questions were questions that I have thought about before so I was excited to get a chance to answer them,” Mani said. He also said that the questions, a mix of personal and political questions, forced him to develop his opinions in order to write a cohesive response.

Sundaram was accepted to TASP and will be attending the “Negative Capability in Art and Culture: Romanticism to the Present” seminar at Cornell University. Although she is not sure about which career she will pursue in the future, she feels that TASP may give her a better idea of what she is interested in. It also presented a novel opportunity for Sundaram to explore humanities and develop her analytical thinking and creativity.

“It seemed like a cool summer program because the classes that are offered are really unique compared to classes we have at Saratoga, and I thought it would be a cool experience to meet people from diverse backgrounds,” Sundaram said.

Given the program’s prestige, Sundaram said she had been waiting in anticipation for months before admission decisions were sent out. She was thrilled when she first found out that she had been accepted.

“I didn't really expect to get in but it was amazing to see that my work and thought into the entire process of essays, interviews and more was validated”, Sundaram said.

Additionally, Mani was accepted to the Chinese Summer Program from NSLI-Y, a program run by the U.S. Department of State. Both TASP and NSLI-Y are free scholarship-based programs. NSLI-Y is run by the state department and, according to Mani, is especially prestigious for students looking to work in the state department in the future.

The Chinese Summer Program will be held in Taiwan and lasts six to eight weeks, starting in mid-June to early July and ending in early to mid-August. Through language classes, presentations and activities, and life with a host family, the program seeks to immerse participants in the country’s culture. NSLI-Y also has programs for Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish.

Mani has always been interested in Chinese culture and language and has wanted to visit China for a while. Furthermore, he feels that learning Chinese will supplement his career goals.

“I want to work for the foreign service or state department, so learning Chinese is pretty important especially if I want to work in Asia,” Mani said. “Plus, I love learning languages.”

According to Mani, the program provides a significant advantage over learning Chinese in California, as it puts him in a position where he can only speak the native language.

Ultimately, Mani will likely attend NSLI-Y, which will help him achieve his goals of working for the state department and communicating in foreign countries in the future.

Senior Arin Chang also is interested in pursuing humanities, but rather than focusing on government he is more interested in the creative aspect, specifically creative writing. During the summer after his junior year, he attended the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop.

“I was always pretty interested in creative writing, and somehow during junior year that interest intensified from both being in English 11 honors and also discovering a lot of inspiring works by student writers online,” Chang said.

The workshop also presented Chang with the unique opportunity to explore more genres of writing beyond the short stories that he often wrote for fun. Working side by side with advanced writers was also a key benefit of attending the workshop.

Chang said that he was slightly intimidated by his peers in the workshop, consisting of 10 students and a teacher, since it had many proficient writers that had already published literature in journals. However, after 5 hours of free writes, reading literature and discussions every day, Chang became more and more skilled at reading and writing.

“Probably the most valuable part of the workshops was the feedback I got from all my peers and teacher,” Chang said. “I was also challenged by many of my peers’ works to think more critically and creatively in general when I read texts.”

The program not only left Chang with newfound writing skills that he hoped would help him write stories and poetry of his own, but also helped him “gain a greater understanding of the world and people in general, he said.

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