Campus News

June 29, 2011

What motivates professors to teach pre-college students?

Frank Lechner, professor of sociology teaches a two-week, pre-college course called
Frank Lechner, professor of sociology, teaches a Pre-College Program course called "The Sociology of Globalization."

By Elaine Justice

Why do senior faculty at Emory welcome the chance to spend part of their summer teaching compressed or full versions of their courses to students who haven't even been to senior prom?

"I have two teenagers in school, so I'm always thinking about how I can adapt what I'm doing for a younger audience," says Frank Lechner, professor of sociology who is teaching a two-week course called "The Sociology of Globalization." He says he doesn't alter the material much, and uses the same text as with his college course on the topic.

Plus, Lechner believes the program is "important for Emory to reach out to potential students. I believe the program will be more successful if experienced teachers participate, and I want to contribute to it."

Emory's Pre-College Program, now in its third year, is relatively small—total enrollment this summer is 200—but provides a variety of courses in both two-week (non-credit) and six-week (college credit) formats. Although relatively new, the program already enrolls students from all over the country and abroad.

Having some of Emory's best senior faculty teaching in the program is its hallmark, says Philip Wainwright, associate dean for international and summer programs. 

For Bill Gruber, professor and chair of the English Department, part of the motivation to teach his course on "Writing the Personal Essay" came from his own son.

"Four or five years ago, I had just seen my son go through the college application ordeal and had some empathy for what students were experiencing," he says. He saw how little high school students were prepared to write the admissions essay required for most college applications.

"The personal essay is a literary form just like the short story or literary sonnet," says Gruber, who teaches creative non-fiction in Emory's Creative Writing Program. He re-tooled that course into a two-week mini-course, now in its third year.

"I was surprised by how quickly the students seemed to improve," says Gruber. "I thought about that, and I believe it's because of the unique demands of a two-week course. They write every day for several hours." 

For law instructor Jennifer Romig, the draw is about teaching students who are focused and interested in the law, and about helping students learn by doing. "I was impressed with the students' grasp of policy concepts and how much they enjoyed exploring those questions within a legal framework," she says, which is perfect for experiential learning.

Last year, Romig took students to federal court and had them sit in on a trial. She also had them talk with corporate lawyers about intellectual property law and with independent practitioners who own a small firm.

"Students said the lawyers showed them how being a lawyer is fun. They were motivated by the personal view they got," she says.

But learning by doing also means doing a lot of work. Students spent their two weeks focusing on a problem in intellectual property law, did collaborative writing and peer review, drafted a letter to a hypothetical client, and gave an oral argument in Emory Law's Tuttle Courtroom.

"There's so much news about how young people today aren't ready for college," says Romig. "The students who are doing this are really ready and very motivated."

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