Summer Institute (SI) in the eyes of the director

There was much to be said about this year’s Lawrence University Summer Institute (SI, once called the Freshman Academic Institute) by Curricular Director Amy Nottingham, the head of the program. Descriptions like ‘a lot to offer’ regarding the course floated around the interview on multiple occasions.  

SI is a program open to all admitted first-year students in the summer just before they begin their time at Lawrence, but it has especially been designed with the needs of first-generation and international students in mind. Nottingham described SI as a “bridge” into college, giving incoming students a head start in campus life academically, socially, navigationally and personally. This is the second year since COVID-19 began that it has been administered in person.  

Students involved in the program are introduced to college life through a multitude of community-building activities as well as two mini-classes. The first class is a seminar-style class modeled after First-Year Studies; in the duration of the class, students will have the chance to fine-tune their thesis development, deep reading and active participation skills in an environment not dissimilar to what they will encounter come Fall Term.  

The second class, Topics in Psychology, allows the student to dip their toes into a more passive lecture-style course; the goal is to practice notetaking, listening and internal comprehension of the material. Both classes present an opportunity to make the individual’s transition into what is expected in a college-level curriculum much smoother, and completion of both courses even counts for three credits towards graduation.  

Aside from the early introduction to academics at Lawrence, SI participants can enjoy several extracurricular activities which help them begin developing relationships with other Lawrentians early. A weekend at Björklunden ended the program this summer. There, students could connect with one another in a relaxed environment. Often, the early formation of these bonds helps a student advance in their social life at the university before their first term even begins.  

Heading, for the first time since the pandemic began, to the Oneida Nation in Green Bay was another highlight of the summer. Some of the activities included learning about the Oneida Nation’s sustainability systems through touring their food production facilities and helping pick apples from their orchards.  

Nottingham emphasized one of the more implicit takeaways from the Summer Institute—what it means to go to a liberal arts school. Especially in the seminar class, students are encouraged to engage with one another through active listening and discussion, leaving room for potential disagreements. Nottingham noted that though each student has their own beliefs, which could lead to the aforementioned disagreements, being able to talk through these unique ideas helps to create understanding of opposing views.  

The students of SI refine these skills through studying Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD, chosen specifically for the program. The text was adopted into the course three years ago when Nottingham took up the position of the Curricular Director around the same time as the murder of George Floyd. The antiracist work focuses on implicit bias, which can help lead readers further to an open mind and dispel preconceptions through reading about events they may have not ever experienced personally.  

This year, SI consisted of five Program Assistants (PAs) — upper-year students who help run events and act as mentors and friends for their incoming first-years — and 48 students, six of whom were international.  

Nottingham highlighted what made this year of SI students unique; the class this year was especially engaged in every aspect of the program. She pointed out that they took on each project with a hunger to learn and a readiness to talk with each other and excelled at thinking in both personal and group-oriented senses. Everybody formed their own thoughts on a given subject and further developed them as they shared their perspective and listened to the opinions of other classmates. As a teacher of First-Year Studies for many years, Nottingham was impressed with how quickly the students were open to each other’s thought processes, even going as far to say that they ‘gelled’ as a group, forming a mutual understanding of each other through respectful discussion.  

Summer Institute, Lawrence’s ‘preseason’ orientation, has much to offer incoming first-year students. Nottingham herself expressed her love for the program in her summary of the course and considered the university lucky to have such a mutually beneficial program for everyone involved.