Much effort went into the preparation for the Summer Institute (SI) this year on every end. Student Program Assistants (PAs) joined hands with staff to see that the three-week orientation went as smoothly as possible. Matvei Mozhaev and Eliza Peetz (both SI students themselves as first-years) were two of the five PAs that contributed to the success of the institute this August.
There was room for the Summer Institute to regrow now that it was two years out from the height of the pandemic Even though SI has been conducted in person, the people who previously ran SI had parted ways with Lawrence, leaving the challenge of how to further bounce back from the effects of COVID-19 in the hands of the PAs.
Lead PA Mozhaev took charge of creating technical lists like housing arrangements, as well as designing the extracurricular and workshop schedule. With only a few documents left over from previous years, he and his team had to craft most of the social events themselves. Even against the challenge of bringing SI back from scratch, Mozhaev would go on to say that one of the greatest joys he had regarding the program was just dreaming it up in the first place.
Imagination had proved to them to be a powerful tool, as the team came up with a plethora of exciting events for the incoming students. Some activities even included traveling around the Appleton area; bubble tea trips and a visit to the Trout Museum of Art were some of the off-campus highlights of the revamped SI. Regarding this, Mozhaev mentioned the importance of not only orientating the students to the campus but to the surrounding community as well. That way, everyone could feel more comfortable in the entirety of (for many of them) this new home-away-from-home.
While there was less planned than usual, the PAs used the time that was newly freed up to the benefit of themselves and the students. Peetz recalled impromptu self-care nights and nail-painting sessions with her group fondly. Both PAs agreed that the emphasis on student-PA interaction that the schedule allowed for helped form strong bonds between all involved, new and returning students alike.
At the beginning, Peetz told me, there was some “forced engagement” among SI participants, who were still adjusting to this next step in life. The extra hours that PAs were able to spend helping the students form social connections bore fruit, however. The two PAs agreed that most of the students who bonded with each other during SI are still close today. This goes for those helping to run the program as well; Peetz pointed out that she herself still talks with many of the students who were in her care.
The final weekend at Björklunden (the favorite activity of both Mozhaev and Peetz) was an especially powerful moment for the PAs, who each mentioned that the camaraderie among students was especially clear to them there. Both celebrated the fact that everyone was included on the trip, each student having made friends to share their time there with. “We’re all in this together.” Peetz said, encompassing SI student and student-employee alike in the simple (yet true) statement.
There was agreement among those who worked for the program that SI seemed to be a positive experience for all involved. Despite this, Mozhaev recognized that the program could always be improved. His ideas for change, however, were much more heavily focused on garnering more recognition for SI itself. He stressed his wish that more first-years would get involved with the program to see it “integrated” more fully into the life of the Lawrentian from the beginning of their time here to the very end.
Each had some parting words for future students of the program with the common theme of involvement; Peetz especially emphasized her wish that SI students of years to come would go to as many non-mandatory events as they could (while also taking time for oneself). She also made it clear that she hoped every student would get to know each other, as well as their PAs, to have the chance to create the treasured bonds that she was so lucky to have formed.
Future PAs get some words of wisdom, too. Both Mozhaev and Peetz stressed connection, the former urging those who take up the position in the future to be proactive in their communication with the incoming students they lead. The latter, too, expressed her hope that PAs to come would continue to make time for students even outside mandatory hours.
As for afterthoughts, the two PAs had strikingly similar responses; they found the Summer Institute to be a positive, holistic experience for many of the students and considered themselves fortunate to have been involved.