170 N.H. high school students kick off ASP 2021 with virtual Leadership Institute
“If you want to become a successful scientist, I would encourage you to take the risk and put yourself in the position where you fail.” Dr. James Collins, professor of Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, offered this advice to students attending the virtual New Hampshire Leadership Institute, part of the 64-year-old Advanced Studies Program (ASP) at St. Paul’s School, which is running from June 21 to July 25 this year.
As a pioneer in the emerging field of synthetic biology, Collins is a Rhodes Scholar and a 2003 MacArthur Fellow. He’s also a New Hampshire native who attended Bishop Guertin High School in Manchester — credentials that make him well-suited to address this particular audience. Since 1957, the ASP has exclusively welcomed rising seniors from New Hampshire’s public and parochial schools for a unique immersive summer program on the School’s grounds.
“[Our focus on New Hampshire students] makes us different from any other program that I’m familiar with,” ASP Director Alisa Barnard ’94 says. “It’s just an incredible population of students who have self-selected into doing rigorous academic work for five and a half weeks of their summer.”
In addition to taking one intensive course chosen from an array of subjects ranging from astronomy to biomedical ethics to film studies, ASP students participate in writing workshops and receive one-on-one and group college counseling sessions. The program is intended to jumpstart the students’ college application process and give them exposure to academic areas or career paths they might not have considered.
Traditionally a fully residential program, the ASP also provides students with the experience of living away from home on a college-like campus, combining rigorous coursework with dorm life and extracurricular activities, as well as access to cutting-edge facilities like the NOAA Science on a Sphere classroom in the Lindsay Center for Mathematics and Science or The Hawley Observatory.
In 2020, ASP was forced to move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We asked ourselves what we could provide for our students that they would really benefit from and enjoy, and that would translate well into the online space,” Barnard says. “We decided to focus on a modified version of our writing workshop with a focus on leadership, putting on center stage a series of leaders from different fields, all of whom have ties to New Hampshire.” The speaker series kicked off last summer with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen addressing 120 students from more than 50 New Hampshire schools via Zoom. She was followed by daily speakers who addressed topics such as clean energy, climate change, and systemic racism.
The success of the new institute inspired Barnard and her colleagues to offer a hybrid ASP model this year, with the more traditional three-week residential program following the two-week virtual Leadership Institute. Representing 60 high schools, 170 students are enrolled in ASP this summer; 140 will participate in both segments.
“I’m excited about this year’s hybrid model and the way it’s allowing us to be accessible to a more diverse audience, including some students who perhaps wouldn’t be able to afford either the time or cost of the program [otherwise],” Barnard says, adding that the ASP annually grants financial aid to about 40 percent of participants.
On June 21, Shaheen returned to kick off the Leadership Institute and emphasized the catalyzing role of young people in making change on today’s biggest global issues. “If you look at the Black Lives Matter movement and the response to George Floyd’s murder, it was young people who were driving that,” Shaheen says. “As we look at climate change … other social justice issues, LGBTQ rights, it’s young people who are driving that. So, I’m optimistic that in the future, all of you are going to take over leadership positions and do a better job than my generation has done.”
The speaker lineup featured leaders with New Hampshire ties in fields ranging from politics to technology to sports. Matt Bonner, a retired NBA player and Concord native, spoke about the importance of leading a team by example and the need for diverse viewpoints and backgrounds to foster true innovation. Reflecting on her time as an ASP student in 1996, Dr. Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, who teaches conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University, said her summer at St. Paul’s School gave her confidence to connect with the people who would become her mentors and collaborators during college and in her career.
Coe-Brown Northwood Academy student Meredith Gibson is in the Law and Governance class at the ASP and volunteered to facilitate a Q&A session with Jane Flegal, who studied marine biology during SPS ASP 2004 and was an intern in the same class four years later. Flegal’s interest in the natural world has led to her current position as senior director for industrial emissions at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. For Gibson, the experience demonstrated the importance of thoughtful, informed questions in crafting a conversation. “Throughout the NHLI program, I was able to learn that leadership looks different in various careers,” Gibson says. “Being a successful leader means to be confident in yourself.”
Other speakers included Kate Bergeron ASP ’88, vice president for hardware engineering at Apple; Mark Zankel, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire; Julian Jefferson, staff attorney in the New Hampshire Public Defenders’ office; and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
“Our speakers have offered compelling reflections on what leadership looks like in their careers and their fields, and they have spoken about their ideas of what the future looks like in terms of sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and other big-picture issues,” Barnard says. “We’re trying to present the students with interesting ideas, but also to speak to them like the future leaders that we want them to be.”