The Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen—an intense, weeklong course of study aimed to not only expand students’ intellectual horizons, but also prepare them for life on campus and in the classroom—recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. The program, which is attended by incoming Penn students from diverse backgrounds and intellectual interests boasts a wide range of courses reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of Africana studies. This past summer’s courses included “A Borderless Caribbean? The Creole Geographies of Dominica’s Popular Music,” taught by Professor of Music and Africana Studies Timothy Rommen; “Slaves, Rebels, and Abolitionists in American History,” taught by David Boies Professor of History Kathleen Brown; “Africa, the Nation-State, and the Africa Diaspora in the Contemporary World,” taught by Africana Studies Professor Michael Hanchard; and “Young, Gifted, and Black: Understanding the Experiences of Black Students at Elite Colleges and Universities,” taught by Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences Camille Charles.
“I had planned to be a psychology major when I arrived at Penn, but then I was invited to attend the Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen,” says Kassidi Jones, C’18, a member of the 2014 Summer Institute. “For the first time I was taught my own history by people who looked like me. After taking Intro to Africana Studies, which was the first course that I took in the major, there was no going back. I started working in the department and declared Africana studies as my major and haven't had a single regret.”
One of the biggest benefits of the Institute is the access to faculty and graduate fellows that the students have. Michelle Munyikwa, a joint degree student in the Perelman School of Medicine and Penn Arts and Sciences’ graduate group in anthropology, has been a fellow in both the 2015 and the 2016 programs. “Spending time with my mentees from the Africana Studies Summer Institute has been a highlight of the last year,” says Munyikwa. “They are energetic, vibrant, and excited to be in college. I also see mentoring them as a way to pay forward the incredible investments that my mentors have made into my education. I simply wouldn’t be where I am if not for their care and dedication, and I hope that I can be that strong a mentor for my students as well. Africana has given me the opportunity to learn how to mentor and how to lead my mentees through example.”
It's not just the coursework that is so important to the students. Ask any Institute graduate and they will tell you about the long-lasting bonds of friendship they discovered—especially important given the students in the program are brand new residents at Penn, and often new to the area, as well. “I learned how to make friends in the midst of chaos: to enjoy the company of others, to embrace your support system, and just have fun overall, even when the work gets hectic,” says Tyrone Quarterman, C’17, a 2013 Institute graduate and philosophy major. Quarterman says the program also prepared him for the rigorous workload at Penn. “It taught me the importance of dedicating myself fully,” he says. “There have been times in my academic career where I made it through the tough stretches solely because I was prepared.”
Even after the program ends, graduates say the experience has molded their future paths as students and individuals. “To this day, my experiences from the Africana Studies Summer Institute are among my most memorable,” says Carlos Couce, C’17, a 2013 Summer Institute alum and biology major with a concentration in biological mathematics. “The Summer Institute has done a better job at fostering a sense of community than any other group. It truly felt from the first day that I stepped onto campus that the professors and staff had a strong vested interest in our success. And while all the Summer Institutes are slightly different, the amount and level of care is the common thread among them all.”
Camille Charles, who is also a professor of sociology, Africana studies, and education and director of both the Center for Africana Studies and the Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen, says the Center is not only incredibly proud of the program, but also of the legacy that it represents. “For 30 years, we have helped to prepare incoming freshmen for the rigors of Penn while introducing them to the interdisciplinary field of Africana studies,” says Charles. “On a more personal level, we have helped students to foster meaningful relationships with their classmates and the renowned faculty who teach in our program. The Summer Institute provides a unique opportunity for Penn’s incoming students, and this is something that the University should be very proud of.”