CMU’s Pre-College Programs Give Teens a Head Start on Success
By Bruce Gerson
Nearly 700 high school students from 16 countries and 38 states have moved on campus for the start of Carnegie Mellon University’s 2022 Pre-College Programs, a robust residential experience that will help them grow intellectually, socially and personally.
CMU’s Pre-College Programs offer rising high school juniors and seniors the chance to explore their interests and passions in a dozen areas with CMU faculty and researchers who are among the best in their fields — from artificial intelligence and computer science, to drama and music, to math and science.
The 12 programs are AI4All @Carnegie Mellon, Architecture, Art, Computational Biology, Computer Science Scholars, Design, Drama, Music, National High School Game Academy, Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS), Summer Session and Writing & Culture. The Summer Session program allows students to take the same summer classes as CMU undergraduates.
Programs range from three to six weeks, and tuition for each program includes room and board. Some scholarships are available, and children of CMU faculty and staff receive a 50% discount on Summer Session. This year’s cohort is living in Morewood Gardens, Fifth Clyde House and Stever House.
Many pre-college alumni give the program high marks, and some who are now parents are encouraging their children to attend.
Ryan Haverson, senior director of engineering at Riot Games in California, attended CMU’s Pre-College as a high school student at Shadyside Academy near Pittsburgh. This year, his daughter, Leah, a rising senior at Sequoyah High School in Pasadena, California, is attending the Art program.
“I think it will be good for her to be around more kids who care about learning, and it will give her some insight into what she wants out of a college experience,” said Haverson, who called his Pre-College experience “amazing.”
“I got to meet a whole new group of people that all had a similar set of values around taking school seriously. It also gave me a glimpse into college life, and balancing time and play on my own,” he said.
Pre-college alumni Lizzy and Patrick Nolin, daughter and son of CMU alumna and Director of Enrollment Services Chris Nolin, spoke of the impact Pre-College had on them.
"Pre-College gave me a sense of independence, taught me that design was my true passion, and brought me some lifelong friends from all over the country,” said Lizzy Nolin, who attended the Art & Design program in 2011, earned her bachelor’s degree in design from CMU in 2016 and is now a communications designer for PeopleForBikes, a national nonprofit advocating for greener transportation options in cities. “I think my experience at Pre-C helped me become who I am today.”
Patrick Nolin attended the Pre-College Drama program in 2012, earned their bachelor’s degree in drama from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and is currently working in LGBTQIA+ advocacy with EquityCA as a high school mentor and featured cast member in the community theater in Merced, California.
"Pre-C helped me figure out what I wanted to study in college, and it opened my world beyond my own high school experience,” they said. “I got to learn from some amazing instructors and get a taste of what college could be like. I loved it!"
While each program handles its academic logistics, Pre-College Director Yang Liu and her team help to coordinate the overall program and organize activities for the students during evenings and weekends. Liu, who joined CMU this past January, said 45 resident advisors and three community advisors — current CMU undergraduate students — have been hired to provide academic and social support.
Miguel Benitez, a senior mathematical sciences major and a SAMS alumnus, is one of the community advisors. He said SAMS caught his interest because of its focus on helping minority students.
“SAMS was one of the best experiences I had in high school,” said Benitez, a first-generation student at CMU. “I was surrounded by people from the same perspective, one of the main ones being minority students seeking to excel academically, and that exposure made me more confident about attending and putting myself in spaces that many students from my background wouldn’t put themselves.”
One of the resident assistants in Stever House is Helen Zhang, a sophomore in the Humanities and Arts program. Zhang attended Pre-College’s National High School Game Academy (NHSGA) in 2020. Her group created “CATch of the Day,” a game about a “deep-diving fisherman cat.”
“One of the best parts of NHSGA was being able to work with other highly motivated and talented programmers, artists and sound designers,” she said. “Even though my Pre-College experience was virtual, I was still able to connect with peers and establish friendships, and gain more faith in myself. I’m looking forward to all the fun activities we have planned for the students.”
Students have fun while learning in the AI4ALL @ Carnegie Mellon Program. The program gives high school sudents the opportunity to participate in project-based learning, and attend lectures in various aspects of computing and artificial intelligence.
Liu said activities will include open mic nights, alumni speakers, and trips to Kennywood, the Civic Light Opera, Fallingwater and a Pirates game.“We will have fireworks on the Cut July Fourth and a group of Pre-College students will sing the national anthem at the Pirates game on Saturday, July 23,” Liu said.
Born in Shenyang, China, Liu earned her undergraduate degree in teaching English as a foreign language before moving to the United States for graduate school. She received her master’s degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University. Before coming to CMU, she worked at a private high school in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she helped to recruit, enroll and retain international students.
“I like working with high school students and I also enjoy the higher education environment, so the Pre-College Programs at CMU are perfect for me,” Liu said. “I’ve been here for only six months, but I’m learning a huge amount. There’s a lot of coordination among the academic units and various campus partners such as Conference and Event Services, Enrollment Services, Computing Services and Student Affairs to name a few. We’ve had tremendous support from all the departments on campus.”
Liu said she’s excited for the start of her first Pre-College experience. So is student Leah Haverson.
“I’m looking forward to making some weird art, taking pictures and meeting lots of artists,” Haverson said.