Dating back to summer 2007, the Wesleyan Quantitative Analysis Center Summer Apprenticeship Program has been giving select Wesleyan undergraduates the opportunity to explore a subject of their choice while working one-on-one with some of the top professors Wesleyan has to offer. Spanning a full ten weeks, the program is designed to maximize independent efficiency, with morning classes and workshops in statistical analysis and software, leaving the afternoons for hands-on research for their individual projects.
At the startup of the program, Donald Moon, the former Dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs, foresaw that the “program will be of real benefit to our students, both in enhancing their understanding of quantitative methods and in giving them skills that are much in demand in all walks of life.” Today, he couldn’t have been more right. Part of the major appeal of the apprenticeship program is that students from different academic backgrounds can join together to learn data analysis techniques and engage in active research projects surrounding their own, personal interests, while working side-by-side with students from completely different majors with completely different topics.
The malleability of the program that allows for such a wide spectrum of research epitomizes the essence of Wesleyan as a learning institution, emphasizing Wesleyan’s commitment to the liberal arts, while highlighting its ability to produce well-rounded, marketable students. It seems as though many of the students themselves were impressed with the skills they had acquired throughout the summer and were excited to see the application of their skills not only to their research but to other jobs as well. James Hall said, “The QAC Summer Apprenticeship Program gave me the unique opportunity to act as a pseudo-consultant for the ITS department on campus, allowing (and requiring) me to hone my data analysis skills, create biweekly analysis reports for the department heads, and learn how to give professional presentations to my employers.”
Beyond finding good jobs across campus, these select students receive advice from their faculty sponsors. Michael Linden, a recent QAC apprentice, admitted, “I felt like I was able to build a really great relationship with my sponsoring professor that has continued into this year.” Throughout the process the faculty sponsor works closely with the student to keep them on track and because the program runs during summer break, the professors are not stretched as thin as they usually are during the semester, leaving them with more time and energy to work collaboratively with their student(s). Although building this relationship with a faculty member is a major benefit to the program, it is upstaged by the strong bonds between the students themselves. Linden said, “The social aspect of the QAC made the program what is was for me. I loved getting to know new people who shared my interest in data. Many of those relationships have continued into this year and have become close friendships.” In fact, the apprenticeship program works to support faculty research by training and supporting student research assistants and works to develop and identify students that can serve as tutors during the academic year, which means that many of these students find themselves working together throughout the year in the QAC lab as a mentors for students taking data-oriented courses.
Besides for the committed students and sponsors, the professors who run the program are the most hard-working of all. Professor Manolis Kaparakis and Professor Lisa Dierker are constantly working to improve the program and to provide support for any and all of their students. Their approachability and knowledge make them the perfect resources on campus, always willing to sit down with their students. Between the fulfillment of creating their own projects from beginning to end and of meeting amazing, hard-working people to work through the process with, students leave the program as mature, capable people, ready for the work force and most definitely ready to help by spreading their knowledge. This program is pushing boundaries in a new format that allows students to take the reigns, without falling off the horse. On the first day of her Introductory Quantitative Analysis course, Lisa Dierker explains that she is going to push us over the edge, push us off the mountain and into free-fall, but that she and the tutors will be there every step of way to support us as we dive into unchartered territory. Her speech is both unnerving and exciting, and hits the QAC’s initiative on the head.