At the Undergraduate Education division retreat yesterday, I heard from Rachel Hoover (Assistant Director in the Stuckert Career Center) an exciting idea for connecting across all the different units in the division – let’s start a “gap year” program. This pre-college opportunity would support not only college/career exploration, but personal leadership and immersion in some field of study with UK professors or researchers. The student would be housed in an otherwise unused room in a UK residence hall or connected with peers in a co-housing venture in downtown Lexington under the guidance of UK’s Off-Campus Housing. Ideally, the student’s program of study would be hands-on, immersive and project-based in order to build a college/career-ready portfolio.
The program could serve those students in Kentucky high schools who had dropped out and – being under the age of 18 – are being forced back into the educational system by law. It could serve those students who, being the first in their family to attend college, need some time and space to unwind from the obligations at home and learn how to focus on how to build out their plans for a college career. They could co-enroll in the FCPS STEAM Academy if they need to accommodate their required attendance in high school; and this would also allow for their curriculum to be personalized and customized in a way that puts them on track to attend UK full-time in the following year.
The gap year program for post-high school students is popular in European and U.K. Commonwealth countries. A friend of mine from New Zealand tells me that when she was in high school, there was a regular expectation that everyone would simply take off and explore the world after high school – rich or poor. In Norway, residential programs for post-high school students are called “folk schools” since the expectation is for the young adults to learn – while finding and articulating their life long aspirations – how to become better citizens. They say the key is the community feeling: “fellesskap” – learning how to be responsible for others, friendship and togetherness – learning through activity with others in a social setting.
In scanning for how other universities here in the US have approached this idea, I found several examples of gap year programs sponsored by or partnering with universities:
- Portland State University – Carpe Diem (www.carpediemeducation.org)
- U of Hartford – The Academy at Watkinson (www.watkinson.org/programs/theacademy)
- U of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music – Immersion Program (www.esm.rochester.edu/immersion/)
Other examples of gap year programs show they offer leadership opportunities for graduate students who have finished their Master’s degree. For example, Thinking Beyond Borders offers hands-on, overseas programs led by young scholars with Master’s degrees in International Development. We could build program leadership roles into some of our most challenging academic programs here in the Division, e.g., Gaines Fellows or the Honors Program.
Perhaps this is an innovative way to expand on and institutionalize the UK Community Engagement classification recently renewed by the Carnegie Foundation. For example, one of the oldest residential internship programs is in Worcester, MA: Dynamy Internship Year offers college/career advising as well as optional college seminars. A gap year program could also serve as a way for UK to reach out to previously underserved populations and find connections for mutual benefit – not focusing on volunteerism or charity, but on respectful and collegial interactions to better the whole community or state. Perhaps the program could be offered in partnership with corporate or NGO sponsors (e.g., the AFS-USA), the UK Service-Learning Workgroup, Office of Sustainability, Student Affairs (Residence Life) and the UK International Center – as well as the colleges here at the University that support undergraduate educational opportunities.