Six alumni of the Crimson Summer Academy—a University program that draws local high-achieving, economically disadvantaged students to study at Harvard for six weeks each summer—reflected on memorable experiences with the program to commemorate its 10-year anniversary in a forum at the Longfellow Center Tuesday.
The program, spearheaded by A. Clayton Spencer, former vice president for policy at Harvard and current president at Bates College, provides students from families with incomes averaging $29,000 a year in Boston and Cambridge with the opportunity to channel their academic ambitions and achieve their goals of attending four-year universities.
“It’s all about aligning the students’ ambition with opportunities,” said Spencer, who is called by many the “godmother” of the Crimson Summer Academy. “I think it’s transformed their lives.”
Among others, Harvard Graduate School of Education students, University President Drew G. Faust, and teachers and administrators from Boston public schools attended the forum.
“What brought me to this program was an interest in making college and career readiness programs accessible,” said Ceri F. Evans, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “So to see a presentation like this, from an organization who’s living the mission that I want to have, is just really inspiring.”
In order to attend the academy, which spans three consecutive summers starting the students’ freshman year, the students’ families must income must not exceed $65,000 dollars annually. Each student must complete an application and an interview with one of the directors of the program.
Panelist Ellery Kirkconnell, a 2009 CSA graduate, described himself as “hungry” when asked why he thought he had been accepted into the program.
“We wanted to step outside the door. We wanted to achieve. We wanted to get out, ” he said.
Maxine Rodburg, director of the Crimson Summer Academy and a former Expository Writing preceptor at Harvard, said her greatest reward in designing and directing the program has been following her students beyond their graduation from CSA.
“It’s quite remarkable,” Rodburg said. “We’ve really built a community here.”
Rodburg said the community is composed of CSA mentors, who are either Harvard undergraduates or CSA alumni, and teachers, most of whom have direct ties to Harvard.
Jefferson Correia, a graduate of the first CSA class in 2007 and a 2011 Syracuse University graduate, said this community enabled him to learn among other similarly-ambitious students and form long-lasting friendships.
“I always had a desire to learn, and I don’t know how you can instill that in anybody,” Correia said. “So many people just don’t have confidence in themselves, and a lot that is because other people have told them they can’t do it.”
Eda Kaceli ’16, a 2012 CSA graduate, said the program gave her the confidence to apply to top-tier schools, something her high school had not provided her.
Studies on students in the 10 percent of college aptitude test takers by Harvard Kennedy School researcher Christopher N. Avery ’88 have shown that many capable students from low-income families do not apply to top-tier schools because they simply are not aware of the options available to them.
“Education is ideally the antecedent of income and social mobility,” Avery, who has worked with CSA in tracking students’ progress during the program and into their college years, said. “It’s almost a universal phenomenon that students who attend the program have found success in later years.”