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Clarkson program gives young people a taste of the college experience

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POTSDAM — Forty youths gathered on the Clarkson University campus Friday to brainstorm an ecologically friendly facelift for Potsdam Central School.

The students were taking part in Clarkson’s Young Scholars Program, a week-long summer camp designed to offer a glimpse of the university experience. The participants ranged from students entering their sophomore year in high school to incoming college freshmen.

Each year, the program tackles a different problem through an interdisciplinary approach, said William J. Vitek, professor of philosophy.

“This year, participants are creating a climate action plan for Potsdam Central School,” he said. “The program is designed to attract creative and intellectually curious people.”

Mr. Vitek said the program has been in place for 20 years.

“We introduce them to a little bit of the college experience,” he said. “It is project-based, which is how a lot of the instruction on Clarkson’s campus takes place.”

Students considered the engineering issues in developing a climate action plan, then brought in economic, political and philosophical issues for discussion. The students became a hypothetical consulting firm, splitting into teams to develop different aspects of the plan.

“The Gold Team is creating a plan for three to five years out,” Mr. Vitek said. “They are focusing on doable, affordable things to prevent climate change or mitigate its impact.”

He said students on the green team were focused on a worst-case scenario of irreversible climate change, envisioning radical policies to go into effect 10 years in the future.

One student group focused on educational perspectives. Garrett Villenueve of DeKalb Junction was working on a curriculum to instill environmental ideas in Potsdam students.

“We were working on a survey and maybe environmentally focused classes, maybe a farming class,” he said. “Kids need to learn how to sustain themselves.”

Elsewhere, Julie Welsch, a Massena native entering Clarkson’s Physical Therapy program in the fall, was writing a recommendation that Potsdam adopt LED lighting technology.

“By 2022, all of Potsdam’s light fixtures will be LEDs,” she said. “LEDs save energy, they have no mercury inside of them, they generate less heat and they last 50,000 hours. They cost more but they pay off in the long run.”

Ms. Welsch said she has learned important lessons about teamwork during the camp.

“Working with a group, it is important to divide up the work evenly and manage your time,” she said.

Morgan Zyzik, another Massena native, was linking climate change to current events as she put together the plan’s executive summary.

“I am linking climate change to rising instability in the atmosphere,” she said. “Potsdam is still cleaning up from the storm earlier this week — I am showing how that storm could possibly be caused by climate change.”

She said this was the first time she had worked collaboratively with such a large group.

“I don’t know anywhere else I can get this kind of experience,” she said. “Working with this many people is extremely valuable.”

Ms. Zyzik will enter Clarkson as a biology and pre-health major this fall.

Other students proposed a green roof, geothermal heating and energy and a huge underground water cistern to make the school more self-sustainable.

Many of the students planned on attending Clarkson University. Those who successfully complete the Young Scholars program receive a $4,000 scholarship if they end up at Clarkson University as full-time students.

“I’m coming here because of the people,” Ms. Zyzik said. “They have everything that to me represents my ideal college.”

Clarkson students staffed the camp as counselors. Outside the Young Scholars busy Snell Hall work area, three current students, Alex Nichols, Danielle Faivus and Alicia Cabrera, worked on personalized decorated plates for each participant.

“They’re only here for one week, but we wanted to do something fun for them so they’d have something to remember this by,” said Ms. Faivus.

Mr. Vitek said that teamwork wasn’t the only lesson the students should take from the experience.

“Most people go to college and major in something, but that isn’t the way things work in the real world,” he said. “We’re exposing them earlier to complex problems that must be tackled from multiple perspectives, and that is the way it really works.”

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