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Oxford and Beyond

Miami’s Student Citizens program opens up a humanities pathway to college for underserved high school students

On July 9-23, Miami University hosted Student Citizens, an inaugural program to help underserved high school students explore entry options to college by learning the application process and attending academic seminars that encourage in-depth discussions on vital topics.

Steven Conn discusses John Locke's "2nd Treatise on Government" with Student Citizen participants.
Steven Conn discusses John Locke's "2nd Treatise on Government" with Student Citizen participants.
Oxford and Beyond

Miami’s Student Citizens program opens up a humanities pathway to college for underserved high school students

#Steven Conn discusses John Locke's "2nd Treatise on Government" with Student Citizen participants.()

Supported by a three-year $300,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation  (awarded in 2020 but delayed one year by the pandemic), Student Citizens is directed by Steven Conn, W.E. Smith Professor of History. It is an adjacent offering to Miami’s annual Summer Scholars program, which offers experiential learning opportunities for high-achieving high school students who will be juniors or seniors the following fall.

“The purpose of Student Citizens is to reflect on historical texts about the nature of citizenship,” Conn said. “In so doing, we support the teaching of the humanities, which encourage students to ask difficult questions but never provide easy answers.”

Conn conducts the majority of the intensive humanities seminars, which include readings from such historical and philosophical luminaries as John Locke, Plato, Henry David Thoreau, and Frederick Douglas. He says that it has been heartening to see the students grow passionate about their in-class discussions.

“They come to realize that when they read these materials, they are having conversations with the original authors and discovering new contexts that are no less relevant than they were when they were first written,” he said.

For example, Conn pointed out that an in-class discussion of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which was written in April 1963, touched upon direct references to Thoreau and Plato, whose writings were also included in the Student Citizens seminars. 

“I could see my students’ eyes light up when they drew the connections to these readings, written centuries apart,” Conn said.

In addition to the morning discussion sessions, during the afternoon students work one-on-one with Miami student writing tutors from the Howe Writing Center, engage in guided extracurricular activities, and receive valuable assistance in making plans for college.

The twelve participating students in this year’s first cohort come from high schools in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas. Conn says that he hopes to grow the program to around 30 participants by its third year.

“We’re thrilled and grateful for the Teagle Foundation’s generous sponsorship of Student Citizens,” said Renée Baernstein, senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Science (CAS). “Just as Miami has made considerable progress in promoting STEM, we are boosting our humanities programs as well and demonstrating the rich and vast array of fields that CAS and Miami students can explore.”

Student Citizens is supported by CAS, the Miami University Humanities Center, and the Howe Writing Center. It was made possible with input and direction from Baernstein, Director of the Humanities Center Timothy Melley, Director of Diversity and Outreach Initiatives Jonika Moore, Senior Associate Director of Admission Jane Lee, and Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Howe Writing Center Lizzie Hutton.

Teaching assistants for Student Citizens are Tyler Eyster (MA student in English), Sophia Todd (MA student in History), Meredith Perkins (majors in English: Creative Writing and Diplomacy and Global Politics), and Kathryn Sullivan (majors in English: Creative Writing and Outdoor Leadership).

Read our story about the Teagle Foundation’s award, announced in January 2020.