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UW Summer High School Institute to Observe 30th Anniversary

April 8, 2015
two young men waving foam fingers at baseball game
Levi Cowan of Wheatland, left, and Eric Stewart of Green River, students at the 2000 University of Wyoming Summer High School Institute, rooted for the Colorado Rockies during a group outing to Denver. (UW Photo)

In June 1985, a group of students who had just completed their sophomore year in high school arrived at the University of Wyoming for a three-week educational experience to expose them to college life. They were the first class selected to attend the UW Summer High School Institute (HSI).

Since then, nearly 3,000 students from throughout Wyoming have attended the annual HSI, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this summer with an alumni event July 31 and Aug. 1. Past HSI participants are invited to the 30th reunion to socialize, renew old friendships and reminisce about the experience.

The Wyoming Legislature established the program in 1985 as a way to provide enriching educational experiences for promising students throughout Wyoming and to expose them to the benefits of attending college.

Ever since then, students selected for the program have spent three weeks on campus, taking courses taught by UW faculty members to gain exposure to cultural and scientific concepts, ranging from theater and the arts to building robots in engineering laboratories and learning about solutions to world hunger. They also attend personal growth seminars, and, just as important, they have spent time out of classes in activities designed to stimulate social awareness and intellectual curiosity.

“The Summer High School Institute is the excitement of learning. It is creative, energetic, difficult and challenging. It is exhilaration; it is fun,” says Director Susan Aronstein, a professor in the UW Department of English.

From attending Colorado Rockies baseball games (for many, it is their first opportunity to see a professional sporting event) to touring museums and visiting the Denver Zoo, such experiences provide fond memories.

Tamara (Tillett) Linse of Lovell was among the first group of students in 1985. She says the HSI offered everything the founding legislators had hoped for, and more.

“It validated my abilities and choice, and opened a vista for me. It made college concrete in a way that nothing else could. High school was a trying time, and so having that shining beacon out ahead of me helped tremendously,” says Linse, a fiction writer and an editor at the UW Foundation.

She recalls vividly the group sessions dealing with emotional health that were taught by college mentors.

“I found those sessions to be amazingly helpful. I also loved meeting other students from across the state and realizing they were just like me,” she says. “And, most of all, I loved the intellectual rigor -- it was my first taste of college classes and I have loved them ever since.”

James Adam Pita of Rock Springs, who attended HSI in 2001, agrees that the experience provides a unique avenue to encourage college attendance.

“It improved both my understanding of college life and my views on a collegiate experience in general,” says Pita, who earned a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Southern California and is now the one young woman and two young men talking over fencechief technology officer and co-founder of Armorway Corp. in Los Angeles. “It is a great mechanism to expose high school students to a college environment at an earlier stage in their academic careers, enabling and encouraging them to begin thinking about what steps they should be taking to prepare for college.”

Jesus Rios of Buffalo attended the HSI in 1993. He says the experience solidified his decision to attend UW. He is the youngest of seven children and the first in his family to attend college.

“I credit the Summer High School Institute for allowing me to see, touch, hear and feel like a college-bound student,” says Rios, who later served as UW student body president and is now the principal and chief operating officer for the Ptolemy Group, a data center company in Sheridan. “I never doubted I was heading to college after the program -- and I never doubted I would be attending the University of Wyoming.”

His educational experience influenced his family, too. Two of Rios’ older siblings later attended college, and his sister earned a master’s degree in education and is considering returning to school for a doctoral degree.

All HSI alumni are invited to attend the 30th reunion, which features a mixer/silent auction, HSI 5K, Party in the Park, campus tours and a talent showcase. To register and for more information, visit the website at or call (307) 766-3005.

“The Summer High School Institute is an invaluable program that every year changes the lives of Wyoming’s most prominent and promising sophomores,” Linse added. “Its impact ripples into the future of not only the University of Wyoming, but Wyoming as a whole.”

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