23 August 2013: An extraordinary kick-start to undergraduate years

Banner_Summer Immersion

In a unique bridging of Singaporean and American education, the entire student body of Yale-NUS College’s inaugural class spent three weeks in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, learning and living at Yale University. Students took the opportunity to attend lectures and seminars on globally important issues, experience student life in Yale’s residential Berkeley College, learn more about Yale and its academic traditions and culture, just as they were starting out to build a student community of their own.

Over the course of Summer Immersion, students studied a rigorous but innovative summer curriculum divided into three distinct but connected topics: environment and sustainability, urbanisation and immigration, and leadership. These subjects were chosen in reflection of their global nature and universal 21st-century importance, enabling students to explore the nature of a globalised liberal arts curriculum. Students attended a daily morning lecture taught by Yale faculty members, and then attended an afternoon discussion session in which they were able to engage the material in a more intimate and interactive setting.

Yale and Yale-NUS professors described the students as “impressive and engaging” and “thrilling” to teach. As Yale-NUS College Rector Brian G McAdoo puts it, “This was the first exposure most students had to ‘real’ interdisciplinary thinking at the intersection of science, social science and humanities. They came in with these buckets full of knowledge, and they are looking for a place to use what they learned their previous schools schooling. Being at Yale, where some of the most respected researchers in the world are approaching global challenges using tools that require a certain foundation of knowledge, made for an extraordinarily rarified environment for ideas to dance around.”

The three-week immersion was also intended to offer a microcosm of student life at Yale during the academic year. Students lived in Berkeley College’s residences, had full access to the College’s facilities and dining hall, and took advantage of its central location to explore Yale’s campus. Summer Rector Marvin Chun, Professor of Psychology and Master of Berkeley College at Yale, endeavored to provide a wide range of residential life experiences to students that took advantage of Yale’s unique academic resources, institutional traditions, and geographic location. Professor Chun highlighted the value of Yale-NUS students spending time at Yale to experience residential college life and to bond together as a class. He said, “Doing this special orientation in the summer before school starts allowed students to participate in interdisciplinary or liberal arts seminars and lectures without burdensome grades or credits, and to start pursuing extracurricular activities together at a relaxed pace. Doing this at Yale made natural sense because of our beautiful setting and wonderful traditions. It also made it easier for Yale faculty and students to warmly welcome Yale-NUS students to the community.”

To this end, students were invited to attend ‘Rector’s Teas’, closely modelled on Yale’s ‘Master’s Teas’, almost every afternoon, allowing them to listen to and engage with distinguished guests on fascinating subject ranging from black holes to acting. Tours of Yale’s museums and art galleries allowed students to explore Yale’s unique collections. Students also had the chance to investigate New Haven, Connecticut, and beyond—trips to Mystic Seaport, New York, and Boston offered students the opportunity to connect with their classmates and their academic studies outside of the classroom. A definite highlight of all the activities outside of the classroom had to be the unique invitation to the United Nations by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where he personally addressed and conversed with the students. The Secretary General’s principal appeal to the students—to consider the problems in the world today, and to take responsibility for helping to fix them – was apropos in the context of both Yale-NUS College’s global mission as well as the Summer Immersion Program’s topics of academic study.

Perhaps most importantly, students independently and proactively used Summer Immersion to further develop a dynamic living and learning community. The inaugural class interacted with one other in a range of environments, from classrooms to basketball courts and student governance conferences, encouraging both class cohesion as well as a diversification of intra-student dialogue, friendship, and cooperation. This culminated in the student-inspired, produced, and casted “Shenanigans Uncharted” variety show, which featured student acts including musical performances, original songs, dances, poetry, comedy acts, and a short film, showcasing the individual talents of Yale-NUS College’s student body as well as the inaugural class’s communal spirit. Yale-NUS’ Dean of Students Kyle Farley said, “The most important thing for our students to accomplish over the course of the program was to lay the foundation for the College’s future community of scholars, and we succeeded. Our students challenged themselves academically, socially, and personally, and surprised all of us with the how quickly and deeply they formed commitments to, and compassion for, each other. I expected great things, and the students have only exceeded my expectations.”

The success of Summer Immersion is both a testament to the College’s exceptional student body as well as an exciting glimpse into the College’s unique potential and promising future. Summer Rector Chun noted that Yale-NUS’ students bonded together as a class “even more quickly and surely” than Yale residential college classes did. “What pleases me most is that Yale-NUS is clearly developing its own identity and culture, but it has all the positive features of what makes Yale so special. As a whole, I valued their appreciative and caring spirit, their multicultural diversity, their energy, their initiative, and their independence. One cannot hope for a stronger inaugural class that will make Yale-NUS a great success,” Rector Chun said.