Faculty mentoring young scholars on unique summer projects

July 3, 2007

This summer, faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are spending time with kids years removed from a college career. Four middle school students, mentored by the faculty, will complete individual projects including bridge building and creating a "zine," or an independent magazine.

The students are winners of the Young Scholar grant program through the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY). Student applicants completed their own grant proposals last spring, and were chosen to receive $500 to carry out the project idea with their mentor. All scholars will present their projects at a fair in September.

Tenzin Lendy, who just completed eighth grade at Jefferson Middle School, is one of the winners. "I thought I worked really hard for the grant proposal," Lendy says of the honor. "But when I found out, I was really excited."

Lendy will be mentored by Michelle Downer, a graduate student in the Library and Information Studies program at UW–Madison and past director of the "Madison Zine Fest." Zines are printed, independent periodicals that, according to Downer, often challenge mainstream media and society.

Lendy will create a zine inspired by her interest in writing and her experience attending the Madison Zine Fest. She’ll write articles about topics including overachieving, cheating in school, fast food and obesity, and the history of jewelry and crafts. "I hope she walks away from this project with better writing, interpersonal communication and project management skills," says Downer.

Lendy says she thinks the skills she’ll gain through this project will help her in high school and beyond. She wants to be a teacher, and is thinking about attending college at UW–Madison, Northwestern or Harvard, among others.

"With WCATY, I get to do something out of the box, get ahead of my peers, and advance in school," says Lendy. "I think that will be really helpful when I’m applying for college."

Other UW–Madison faculty mentors include:

  • David R. Bohnhoff, a professor of biological engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will help seventh grader Suman Gunasekaran design and test bridges and create a Web site.
  • Nick Newman, graduate research assistant in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, will mentor eighth grader Ben Kranner in the history, physics, engineering and construction of a catapult.
  • Ming-Fong Jan, doctoral student in educational communications and technology in the School of Education, will help seventh-grader Sam Richards create a game-like tour about the biological and cultural significance of trees on the Edgewood campus.

WCATY offers online programs and accelerated summer classes and enrichment for talented students in Wisconsin. "This mentoring program is such an ideal opportunity to link those students to the talent and expertise at the university," says WCATY President Carole Trone. "I think it’s just one more example of how the Wisconsin Idea continues to have an impact across the state."