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One Foot Already in College

By the time he claims his first desk seat in a classroom at Dartmouth College in the fall, Rob Contuzzi will be well familiarized with college surroundings.

Contuzzi, who graduated from Northampton High School (NHS) on May 31, has already logged many hours in Smith College classrooms. He studied Introduction to Macro-Economics at Smith last fall, and recently finished the course The American Presidency, taught by Marc Lendler, associate professor of government.

Contuzzi’s schoolmate, junior Elise Shulman-Reed, is considering studying women’s history when she heads off to college next year after taking Women in U.S. History with Jennifer Guglielmo, assistant professor of history at Smith, this spring. Shulman-Reed plans to take more Smith courses next year.

Contuzzi and Shulman-Reed are two among 50 NHS students who opted to enroll in Smith courses this spring through a program in which qualifying juniors and seniors from NHS and from Smith Academy in Hatfield are invited to take courses here at no cost. A total of 89 NHS students have taken part in the program this year, enrolling in 110 Smith courses, according to Julie Kurose, the high school’s guidance office secretary, who administers the high school’s participation.

The program, which is coordinated by the Office of the Dean of the College, has been available to local students for more than 20 years, said Tom Riddell, acting Dean of the College. In the past five years, more than 480 students have taken Smith courses.

“Smith College is pleased to be able to offer this benefit to local high school students who qualify,” said Riddell. “This program is part of a strong relationship we have with the local public schools and the city.”

Students participating in the program must have at least a 3.4 grade point average and can only take courses not offered in the high school curriculum, said Kurose. Language and math courses are among the most popular, she said.

“Kids who participate in this program tend to do well academically,” said Kurose. “For the students, we think it will provide a benefit when applying to colleges. Admissions departments see this as a plus; it shows the students are capable of college work.”

For Shulman-Reed, the Smith experience provided a glimpse of what to expect as a full-time college student.

“I thought I’d get a chance to see what college is like, and I did,” she said recently during a break from studies at NHS. “It’s a different dynamic than high school classes. It’s a lot of reading and discussion, not so many tests. It shows you what college is like.”

Shulman-Reed recently finished her Smith course with a final paper on the topic “Transgressive Cultural Formations” and how they have shaped women’s history. She so enjoyed the class that she hopes to study women’s history in college.

“I loved that class,” she said. “Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect. But she’s a great teacher, I loved the way she directed the class.”

For Contuzzi, who is the son of Giovanna Bellesia, professor of Italian language and literature at Smith, the Smith experience helped him anticipate what will be expected of him as he enters Dartmouth.

“It taught me that much of the learning in college you do on your own,” he said. “Learning happens more after class time, not as much during class, as it does in high school. Class work is your own responsibility.”

For Contuzzi and Shulman-Reed, taking classes at Smith made sense in their academic progression. “They offer topics that are interesting,” said Contuzzi of the Smith curricula, “topics that you can’t take in high school.”

Also, they note, it’s a logical next step to take college courses after completing the selection of advanced placement options at their school.

For Shulman-Reed, whose mother, Laura Reed, is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the academics were enhanced by the camaraderie she felt among other young women in her Smith classes. “I made three friends with Smithies in class,” she said.

Both NHS students feel fortunate to have the experience of taking college courses. “I think it’s great that Smith gives us the opportunity to do this,” said Contuzzi. “It’ll make a big difference when we’re in college.”


6/2/08   Eric Sean Weld
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