Meanwhile, Hills is also getting the students ready for a little bit of culture shock. These are not typical summer jobs, after all. Let’s circle back to Joe, who got into the CDC’s Disease Detective Camp, where students could attend mini lectures by CDC experts, participate in a mock press conference in the CDC press room, and probe hypothetical disease outbreaks—a tremendous educational experience, no doubt about it. But the internship itself? There was nothing mock or hypothetical about that. “My main task was to help investigate and conduct research for pediatric pandemic preparedness,” Joe explains. “We looked into Hurricane Katrina and how many children were left on the streets, essentially. I prepared a presentation on the subject for the director of science and presented it to the departments of local and regional readiness. The director then presented it to the Institute of Medicine.” This kind of experience doesn’t just prepare students for real-world work; it gives them an opportunity to test the waters of their future ambitions.
Hills is already working to prepare students for what that means. “We believe science is an integral part of society and may hold some of the answers to some of our key problems. If some of our students go on to be science majors in college, then we’ve built a strong foundation for that. If they go on in international policy or theater, fantastic—just having a basic scientific literacy is great too,” Hills insists. “And how are they are going to internalize that basic scientific literacy? Hands-on activities, struggling with problems.” Hills pauses, trying to come up with the best analogy. “I could give you eggs, flour, baking soda, oil, water, and a detailed recipe on how to bake a cake. And if you go bake the cake, hurrah, but who cares, right?” He shrugs. “But what if I don’t give you a recipe. Maybe the first cake you make is completely horrible, and you systematically start changing things. By the time you’ve baked the seventeenth cake, it might even be better than the original recipe I withheld from you.” Hills smiles. “That would be fantastic.”
Hills’ cake analogy is apt, articulating a goal inherent in the school’s strategic plan. Deerfield is preparing the current crop of students, all born at the tail end of the twentieth century, for the realities of the twenty-first—and what defines the twenty-first century? One can argue that so far, it’s the shared access of knowledge via technology. Facts—or recipes—are everywhere, so there’s no premium on simply collecting data anymore. Warsaw feels this acutely. “That means converting from consumers of knowledge to creators of knowledge,” he says. “The more you have students doing actual research and writing their results, presenting them to the Deerfield community and even the greater community in publications, the more you are adding to the world’s knowledge,” he says.
That expectation, bringing knowledge back to the community, is integral to the summer research program’s goals. In the fall, students will contribute to a symposium where they can share their results and experiences with their peers. “In my mind, that would complete one full cycle,” Hills says. Which means the end of summer will not so much be the end but rather to be continued. Tara and Louisa are both gearing up for the expectation that they will present their experiences, and perhaps inspire their peers to tread similar ground. They know they’re breaking new territory, but they’ll be coming back to as supportive a community as they could hope for. “I’ve tried to tell my students to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Hills laughs. “That’s something they really have to deal with, when they’re not in the comfort zone of their school. That’s part of the reason why I want to be in touch over the summer—you know, ‘How are you doing? It’s okay, it’s fine that you don’t understand everything.’ That’s the point! The leading edge of knowledge discovery is practically defined by not knowing everything. That’s what makes it interesting.” ••