Eye opening. Mind-blowing. Really cool. Are Lawrentians talking about the latest “Spiderman” movie? No – they’re that enthusiastic about the 2019 New Jersey Scholars Program (NJSP).
Rising Fifth Formers Ashley Duraiswamy and Areeq Hasan are among 39 of the Garden States brightest students, each selected to participate in NJSP. For five weeks, scholars board at Lawrenceville to examine a topic – this year “Mind and Body: The Future of Being Human” – through a host of interdisciplinary lenses. No grades are given, so students are free to explore without fear of failure.
“I’ve been willing to try out more things at the Harkness table, to put myself out there and voice a view that may be controversial,” said Duraiswamy. “I’ve realized that doing that hasn’t hurt me in any way - it’s only helped me grow. I think, during the school year, I’ll be more excited to try out those new views instead of shying away from them.”
Students attend a lecture each morning and discuss the day’s topic in smaller, afternoon seminar groups. All of this in preparation for a Program-concluding research paper/presentation and an arts festival. This is summer, after all, so the Program isn’t all work and no play. Evenings are devoted to homework, but there are also sports, movies, a dance, cookouts, and activities at the School’s Ropes Course.
William Westerman, an NJSP trustee and alumnus, shows students an anthropology/sociology approach to “Mind and Body.” He’s an assistant professor in those subjects at New Jersey City University. Lawrenceville faculty members Leah Domb (Science Master) and Marta Napiorkowska (English Master) look at “Mind and Body” from science and literature/philosophy vantage points, respectively. NJSP Director David Figueroa-Ortiz (History Master) brings to bear his expertise in history, ethics, and law.
Duraiswamy and Hasan came to NJSP with divergent views of the topic as well. She was eager to connect her interest in the humanities to science – he wanted to take the opposite approach. “I’ve always separated [humanities and science] into distinct things and coming here has completely changed my mindset,” Hasan said. Duraiswamy concurred, noting, “I think everything has become very connected for me and that was a really great and eye-opening experience.”
Hasan recalled the Program’s first lecture, “Introduction to Consciousness: Why is it a Philosophical Problem,” given by Napiorkowska. “I’d never been exposed to this kind of thought before. I’d never thought about how open that question was and how many different, subjective interpretations there could be of that question. It just blew my mind that there was this whole branch of knowledge waiting for me to discover it. It was really cool,” he said.
As Harkness veterans, it has been fun for the Lawrentians to introduce newcomers to learning around the table. “My focus was on making sure everyone’s ideas were heard – I felt like I could take that role,” explained. Duraiswamy. “I really enjoyed doing that and bringing out different voices in the conversation.”
It was “weird” at first to see people raising their hands and waiting to be called on by the teacher, Hasan said. “They’d never had the opportunity to express themselves in an open environment like Lawrenceville. [I started] talking to people – who have incredible ideas - outside of class to encourage them to contribute and just go for it.”
The Lawrentians enthusiastically recommend the Program to others. They agreed that NJSP, with its creative approach and lack of final judgement, has amplified their own love of learning. “Without the external pressures to do well, I’ve found that I am intrinsically motivated. I’ve realized that [learning] is what I really want to do with my life and I do enjoy it,” said Duraiswamy. Hasan continued, “There’s so much freedom – I’m literally learning for learning’s sake and it’s great.”
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.