The Opportunities of Wake Forest University’s Summer School

Testimonial by Graham McHenry

Graham MchenryWhen I arrived on campus as a freshman at Wake Forest I had myself convinced that the school year was a time for in-class learning and academic exploration, while the summer months represented a time for relaxation and recharging of one’s physical and mental batteries.  Due to this strong but, relatively unfounded belief, I told myself that summer school would not be an option during my stay at Wake.  As a sophomore, after looking at what seemed to be 8 or 9 majors, I decided upon double majoring in Biology and History.  I had always wanted an abroad experience, but due to the course work needed to complete my majors and fulfill the necessary core requirements, a semester abroad appeared to be difficult.  Fortunately an unsuspected opportunity fell into my lap.  In the early spring of 2010 I was interested in knowing more about a history course being taught in the fall by Dr. Emily Wakild of the History department.  While discussing the fall course with me, she brought up a summer course opportunity which combined both history and ecology.  This program fit the areas of my academic interests perfectly, but even more so it presented me with an opportunity to have an abroad experience.  Without hesitation I signed up for Dr. Miles Silman and Dr. Emily Wakild’s annual History and Biology trip to Peru to study tropical biodiversity and Latin American conservation.  I had no idea at the time, but this Wake Forest summer school program would become the most influential experience of my life to date.

In the summer of 2010, I traveled to the most biologically diverse area on the planet with 10 of my peers and two of the most knowledgeable individuals in regards to tropical ecology and Latin American environmental history in the world.  Here I was able to see firsthand the places and natural events that most only read about in textbooks.  I was able to spend time and do research in environments only previously seen to me in programs like Planet Earth and Human Planet.  Not only was the course work fascinating and thought provoking, but it provided me with firsthand experience that no classroom could hope to offer.  As stimulating as our academic time in the field was, potentially the most valuable time in the course was the time spent with the instructors.  The Peru trip presented a rare and unique opportunity to spend entire days with brilliant individuals who contain a wealth of knowledge and want to share it with you.  I feel as though I took advantage of that opportunity and not only learned more about ecology and nature conservation than I had in any course to date, but also discovered much about myself.

Looking back at the summer of 2010 I can say without a doubt that the Summer School program at Wake Forest transformed my life and shifted my aspirations in a new direction.  As a result of this course I have been able to do research in Dr. Miles Silman’s tropical ecology lab for the last 3 semesters and even embark on my own summer research project in the Peruvian lowlands in 2011 with the aid of a Richter Scholarship.  As I continue on with my senior year and begin the process of applying to graduate school in the field of ecology, I find myself thanking the University for creating an opportunity which has opened a door to a life of study I previously had not thought of as an option.  I highly recommend that all students take advantage of Wake Forest’s wealth of summer opportunities whether it be abroad or in Winston-Salem.  These courses will not only feed your quest for academic exploration, but also may inspire you and push your life in a new direction.  If I had not taken this Wake Forest Summer School program I would not have the opportunities I have now and would most likely not be the person I am today.


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