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Ambitious Evanston Students Advance Studies

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November 2, 2006

Evanston senior Joe Sipkins decided to attend Northwestern this past summer because he wanted to take his interest in film to the next level.

Classmate Jessica Doan said yes to the same program because she wanted a chance to study theatre and hadn’t had a free period during the school year.

And junior Carl Glick enrolled because he wanted to learn more about composing music, something he’d been doing seriously for about a year.

For all three of these Evanston Township High School students, the opportunity to spend the summer at Northwestern’s National High School Institute was an experience they just couldn’t turn down.  

“Northwestern has a great reputation, and everyone knows the University has an excellent film program,” said Joe, who considered several other programs before applying to Northwestern. “Plus, it’s right in our backyard.”

Each summer for the last 75 years, Northwestern has invited high school students from across the country and abroad to apply to its National High School Institute (NHSI). More than 850 students, affectionately known as Cherubs, enroll in one of the institute’s six divisions: debate, forensics, journalism, music, film & video production and theatre arts. Students may also apply to two adjunct divisions: Junior Statesmen and Championship Debate.

The program’s mission is “to bring together gifted young people and superior teachers in an atmosphere of affection, knowledge and trust.” During each session, ranging from three to seven weeks, the students take college-level courses in their chosen field, learn from nationally renowned teachers, experience campus life and take field trips.  

“It’s a fantastic experience for the students because it gives them a sense of what college is going to be like at a very high level,” said Barbara Reeder, administrative director of NHSI. “It also gives them a chance to study with the best teachers around, be away from home and live with people who are passionate about the same things they are.”

This last summer nine students from Evanston came to NHSI.

Although he had made a lot of movies for school projects and for fun, Joe said he ultimately applied to the program because he didn’t know much about the professional aspects of filmmaking.

“I wanted to breech the gap between amateur and professional,” he explained.

He got what he came for. “The instructors were phenomenal, and the constructive criticism they gave was really helpful,” said Joe, who took three classes: writing, editing and production. “All the classes went so much deeper than I ever expected.”

Carl was also surprised and inspired by what he learned. “The faculty introduced me to a lot of great composers and kinds of music I didn’t know anything about before,” he said.

Knowledge about the subject matter wasn’t the only thing the students gleaned from the faculty. Jessica said she learned a lot — about acting and about herself. “They always wanted to help if you didn’t understand something,” she said. “But, they really pushed you too. My movement teacher pushed me to do a lot of things I didn’t think I’d be able to do, and I got through everything.”

The intensive nature of the program took some getting used to, said the three Evanston students. Classes started as early as 7:30 a.m. in some divisions, and the instruction often went late into the night.

After a long day of theatre classes, Jessica spent three and a half hours each night practicing for her final performance. Carl spent many of his nights composing a score for a 19-piece brass ensemble, and Joe spent hours and hours in the evening animating his final movie. In the end, all three said those final projects were the highlight of the program despite the long hours and hard work.

“It is pretty intense,” Reeder agreed. “It’s a complete immersion. They live it all day, seven days a week.”

The students in the film program talked constantly about movies they had seen and never stopped working, Joe said. “Some of the most creative things we did were at night when we were just filming and goofing off,” he continued. “The creative juices were flowing all the time.”

One of the most exciting aspects of the program, the students said, was getting an idea of what college might be like from the application process to living in a residence hall to performing under pressure.

Their parents agreed.

“The program exposed Carl to things he wouldn’t have experienced until college,” said Carl’s dad, Paul Glick. One of the highlights for Mr. Glick was to hear his son’s piece played in the gala concert the last night of the program.

Students apply in March, and applications and prices for 2007 will be available in December. For more information, contact the NHSI at (847) 491-3026 or nhsi@northwestern.edu.