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MWHS Senior Attends Highly Selective Summer Seminar
October 8, 2020 — Joshua Nkhata, a senior at Mound Westonka High School, was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Telluride Association Summer Program Education and Citizenship through the University of Maryland this past summer. Admission to the TASP is highly selective with only about a 3 percent acceptance rate. Nkhata was one of only 60 students from around the United States and abroad selected this year from nearly 1,700 applicants, many of whom scored exceptionally well on the PSAT and/or were highly recommended by high school personnel.
Gifted and highly motivated high school juniors apply and are selected each year to attend one of four themed Telluride Association educational programs that center around college-level seminars. Nkhata has taken on several leadership roles at MWHS, and is serving this year as captain of the speech team and is a trumpet section leader for Wind Ensemble and Concert Choir co-president. MWHS teacher Kate Schilling encouraged Nkhata to apply for TASP last school year based on his intellectual curiosity and motivation. All applicants go through an extensive application process, which includes multiple essays and an in-depth interview with TASP alumni.
Nkhata was accepted into the Education and Citizenship seminar, which took place June 21-Sept. 1, 2020. The seminar was based on similar college courses and taught by two university professors. Participants were challenged to consider the relationship between education and government, both in concept and in policy. Nkhata called the seminar “an absolutely transformative experience.”
The program typically runs for six full weeks on a college campus with seminars every weekday and community events on evenings and weekends. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the program took place online this year but kept relatively the same structure. Nkhata joined 14 other students for a two-hour seminar Monday through Thursday, which consisted of long discussions and debates about the day’s readings. “The discussion was incredibly active, with each student participating almost as much as the professor,” said Nkhata.
Each night, the students read, listened, or watched related material that they later discussed. This included works by Plato, Socrates, Whitman and Wordsworth, as well as French films, studies on education, and numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases. On Fridays, Nkhata worked either alone or with other students on short essays that took an argumentative stance on one of the discussion topics or readings for the week.
In addition to the seminar, the group participated in educational events, such as college courses, wellness and health workshops and meetings with political assistants and analysts on Capitol Hill, as well as social activities. The average day would usually include three or four Zoom calls each ranging 1-3 hours.
“We did pretty much every online activity you could think of,” said Nkhata. “We had game nights, movie nights, tea parties, spa days, trivia games, late-night spill sessions, poetry workshops, political debates, and even a virtual smoothie making competition.”
“My favorite parts were the late-night, unsupervised Zooms,” Nkhaha added. “We’d stay up so late just talking and laughing together. One night, we inadvertently stayed up late enough to watch the sunrise together.”
Seminar participants also got to meet some notable guests, including the education advisor to Sen. Cory Booker, leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union, and professors in African American studies, education policy and wellness/psychology.
“I gained so much from the experience, the most important of which was the amazing connections I made with people from across the United States (and one from Canada),” said Nkhata. “Spending so much time together, a lot of these people quickly became some of my best friends even though I had never seen them before. In fact, I was able to meet up with one TASPer from North Dakota just a couple of weeks ago.”
Unfortunately, Telluride Association has suspended its summer programs in 2021 due to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. For information about future offerings, please visit www.tellurideassociation.org.