To learn more
"Your Brain on Summer," by
Jeff Smink from The New York
Times, 28 July 2011.
Seize the Summer!
Wonderworks is a non-profit organization that provides Houston-area high school students with pre-college summer learning experiences in arts, literature and media. By exploring challenging subject matter and techniques in a college setting with college-level instructors, students acquire skills, information, outlooks, and connections that significantly expand their cultural and academic horizons. In the process, they also become better-qualified college applicants and better equipped to succeed in undergraduate studies.
Athletes, musicians, dancers– anyone who has to perform at a high level year in and year out – make a point of staying in training during the offseason.The same goes for academic endeavors – if you don't do
something to keep the rust off, studies show you'll actually lose ground over the summer.If you value learning for its own
sake and want to keep your momentum going en route
to college, Wonderworks or something like it should be part of your summer. Wonderworks at the University of Houston is more than just a change of venue– it's fresher, more relaxed, and far more challenging than school as you probably know it. In fact, it's almost like being in college but with the luxury of pursuing
a single area of interest intensively. And since it's only five weeks out of three months, you'll still have plenty of time left
to chill, travel, save the world, or
whatever else comes next.
Wonderworks courses and summer workshops are held on the central campus of the University
of Houston, which is accessible by bus and light rail for students commuting from
within the Metropolitan Transit Authority service area. These programs are supported in
part by Houston Endowment Inc., The Brown Foundation, the Architecture Center Houston
Foundation, and the Texas Film Commission, whose generosity helps keep tuition affordable
and underwrites scholarships in the form of tuition waivers for students who need
them. No qualified student is prevented from participating in any of the Wonderworks
summer programs because of inability to pay tuition.
Admission to all programs is competitive and based on school grades, supplemented by
standardized test scores taken (PSAT, SAT, and/or Stanford, if taken), and teacher/counselor
recommendations. Students who will be entering the 10th, 11th or 12th grade the following fall,
or who will have just graduated from high school before the summer begins, are eligible to
apply. All admission decisions are made on a need-blind basis. Scholarships in the form of
tuition waivers are available only to students who demonstrate need. Students who receive
a federally-subsidized free lunch at school and/or who are enrolled in the State of Texas
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) automatically qualify for tuition waivers, as
do students whose family income falls within 400 percent of the federally-defined poverty
Courses and workshops carry neither high school nor college credit. Regular attendance
and satisfactory participation are expected of all students.
Science finds what is already there,
but the artist makes that which is not there.
Louis I. Kahn, Talks with Students, 1969
Architecture and filmmaking are exercises of imagination, though grounded in reality. They are not for the risk-averse. Pedagogically, they
tend to be coached more than taught, but the aspiring artist also benefits from a broader
and increasingly sophisticated knowledge of what others have done and how they've gone
about it. As a practical matter, the making of "that which is not there" involves a partially "do-it-yourself" mode of conservatory-like, assisted exploration and practice that takes
place in design studio or on location, soundstages, and in editing suites. This creative semi-freedom is only part of
the process by which artists develop their talent; it also entails self-criticism and diplomatic
but pointed criticism by others in order to shape, reshape, edit or refine a building
design or film.
These studios presuppose no prior experience in the study of either architecture or filmmaking, just a willingness to try something new the way it's taught in college (which
may also come as a revelation even if you've already gotten a taste of it in high school).
Finding your groove may be a bit frustrating at times, but mistakes are something even the
best architects and directors inevitably make from time to time – and learn from
too. With this in mind, we focus on process and learning outcomes rather than the illusory
gratification of overachieving final products; our approach is that of an age-appropriate
starting rather than finishing school. You may or may not find you have talent really worth cultivating, but even if you don't, the not-so-random style points you pick up along the way through lectures, films and field trips will help you appreciate buildings or movies
in new and unexpected ways.
For a fresh perspective on
nonfiction as a source of literary enjoyment, try this link to
Sara Mosle's article "What should children read" from The New
York Times, 25 November 2012.
For the latest on the benefits
of fiction, see: Jonathan
is good for you"
29 April 2012.
A heedy reader shall often discover in other men's compositions perfections far different
from the author's meaning, and such as haply he never dreamed of, and illustrateth them
with richer senses and more excellent constructions.
Michel de Montaigne, Various Outcomes of the Same Plan, Essays I:24 (1572-80)
When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes
luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense
of our author is as broad as the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar, 1837
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling,
a way of looking at things – which you had thought unique and particular to you. Now
here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is
long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
Alan Bennett, Staring out of the Window, Untold Stories, 2005
Reading like writing improves with
practice. Our literature courses are taught from both a scholarly and writerly point of view, combining the what with the how of things. We'll help you learn to read between the lines
while introducing you to authors who don't always – or even usually – find their way onto high school reading lists. You'll also consider what other people have said about what you're reading, while developing critical perspectives of your own.
These courses are reading-intensive, though you'll also try your hand/fingers at writing each week. You'll be responsible for reading a long article or story or several short ones or
several chapters of a book each evening and over the weekend in preparation for the next
class, just as in college. These courses are for avid readers only – if you haven't done the
reading completely and thoroughly beforehand, you can't contribute to and benefit fully
from class discussions and lectures. Most writing assignments will also be done in the
privacy of your own home or favorite coffee shop, before they're line-edited and further
"workshopped" in class.
Most mornings are spent around a seminar table, with mixed media enhancements to
make connections to the readings via video, radio, filmclips, and music downloads. Afternoons
are reserved for an eclectic assortment of films that relate to and extend the sense
of what transpires in the morning and which, like the readings, may be destined to stay
with you for some time to come.
Wonderworks gives no grades and awards no high school or college credit. But if you
take the time and make the effort, you'll not only add to your knowledge and skills, you'll
also have the opportunity to impress some very perceptive teachers who might later be
disposed, as individuals, to serve as supplementary recommenders when you apply to
college. In the meantime, they can help informally to demystify the process of applying
to college in general. In most cases, you'll also have the opportunity to develop writing
samples or other examples of your work to add to portfolios and maybe even a wellcrafted
personal statement to help put your best foot forward – though none of these is a
substitute for good grades and challenging courses on your high school transcript and the test scores
to back them up.
When the fall comes and you go back to high school or even begin your college career, you
may find that Wonderworks has helped you learn to get more out of what comes your way
academically. Literature students may notice they're better at critical reading and, by some
process of osmosis, writing too. Filmmaking students may start thinking and watching
outside the multiplex box and even second-guessing directors. And participantsin the architecture program may have somehow gained the almost magical power to see through buildings instead of simply taking them at face value. We can't guarantee it, but it's been known to happen.
Just because studio and class work is ungraded doesn't mean we aren't paying close attention
to how you're doing. We don't micro-manage on purpose so you can have enough
space to engage the material, get comfortable with it, and take off from there. But we do
expect you to consistently keep your head in the game; interact politely, considerately and
cooperatively with faculty and fellow-students; and be in class on time every day ready to
give it your all, all day long. You must also be able to respond appropriately to constructive
criticism of your work, which is an important part of our modus operandi. Your good standing
and continued enrollment in Wonderworks depend on getting these few things right the first time – there are no do-overs.
Wonderworks studios and classes place a premium on process and progress, intellectual
curiosity and creativity. We favor "messy vitality" – to borrow Robert Venturi's
phrase – over pat solutions and easy answers. We're here to help you try things out that
may seem difficult at first but which, once you get the knack, will help you take your
game to the next level. Think of Wonderworks as a community of teachers and students
who come together for five weeks each summer, a kind of pickup band that makes room for both solo and ensemble work, and where you get to try your chops with some of the
best player-coaches around. Wonderworks is not for everyone, but for those who have the patience and talent, we'll do our best to make your summer one to grow on.
FOR THE RECORD
Wonderworks was formed in 2004 by a group of concerned university and secondary
school educators and parents who saw a need to offer students of special promise and
ability age-appropriate but sophisticated extra-curricular learning opportunities to increase
cultural literacy and stimulate creative development. Wonderworks initially functioned under
the umbrella of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County, but since June 2005
has operated as a freestanding 501 (c) (3) organization under the IRS code.
For more information: email@example.com
For UH Campus Map: www.uh.edu/maps