Thinking Back and Gearing Up!
By David J. Dunn, Academic Coordinator
There is something about springtime in Nashville that gets a person reminiscing. Walking to the office this morning, I thought about how far Vanderbilt Summer Academy has come since I started with it as an instructor back in 2007. We offered 24 courses over the whole summer, and we had just over 300 students. The Commons, where VSA students live and eat, were still plans on somebody’s drafting table. What we had were dedicated staff, driven by the belief that bright minds need a place to flourish. It was a conviction our students confirmed for us every day.
I remember when our current executive director, Dr. Tamra Stambaugh, took over the program. She came on board in the fall of 2008, which was the beginning of the Great Recession. Banks were crashing, wages were falling, people were being laid off, and there was a lot of uncertainty about the future. As an instructor, I was not privy to conversations happening across the university. I just knew that departmental budgets were being frozen and programs were being cut. I worried about VSA. Would there be a 2009? And if Programs for Talented Youth offered it, would students show up?
But parents manage to find ways to take care of their kids, even in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. (Honestly, I am getting a bit choked up thinking about it.) You sent us your kids – 365 of them to be exact.
Since that year, you surprised us again and again. Or maybe, I should say, you amazed us! All of you! We continue to be amazed at the quality of students who apply to VSA, the quality courses our instructional staff offers, and the residential staffers who work night and day to make sure our students are safe, confident, and enthusiastic about their futures and what they can accomplish.
• In 2009, 365 students took 29 courses at VSA.
• In 2010, 406 students took 29 courses at VSA.
• In 2011, 431 students took 30 courses at VSA.
• In 2012, 505 students took 33 courses at VSA.
That was the year that I joined the team as an academic coordinator. I remember thinking, “Okay. This has to be it!”
Wrong again! As of right now, we have 522 students signed up to take 36 courses in everything from microbiology and software engineering, to creative writing and law. I say it every year, but the instructors and TAs who are giving of their time to teach our students amaze me. I will probably spend a lot of time this summer “observing” classes, but that will probably be an excuse to sit in and soak up some of the knowledge. Yes, I am jealous of our students!
This is our busy time. We are gearing up. New summer staff have come on board to finalize events and activities for our students. Our instructors have been communicating with me and each other about teaching tips and lesson plans. Our residential counselors (Proctors) have been making big plans for the students in their care over the next six weeks. (We set up a private Facebook Group for them, and they cannot wait to meet you guys!)
We have just about two weeks until the first wave of students arrive on campus. Two weeks! Everyone here has been putting in long hours, and loving every minute of it, because you amaze us! All of you! From the parents who brag to us about their kids (and rightly so), to the students whose insights blow us away – you astound us! We cannot wait to meet you! I have been a part of VSA for six years now. I truly believe this will be our greatest year ever. I mean that! I do not know how we are going to be able to top “#VSA2013”!
Then again, I’ve been wrong before.