High School Students Get a Sneak Peek at Wheaton

116 students come to campus for two weeks of classes.

The Wade Center, where Dr. Beitler taught a Tolkien course during the Summer Institute. Photo by Lilliana Taussig.

For two weeks this summer, from June 19 to July 2, rising high school juniors and seniors got the chance to experience Wheaton through the inaugural Wheaton College Summer Institute. The program offered students courses ranging from Chinese to economics, chapel services and classic Wheaton experiences, from nights in Fischer to SAGA meals and basketball in Chrouser.

Jim Beitler ‘02, an English professor who taught a Summer Institute course on J.R.R. Tolkien, the legendary English fantasy writer, described the vision behind the new program. 

“We were trying to recreate the Wheaton experience in miniature, bringing the whole of Wheaton’s strengths to bear on this two week program as a way of introducing students to Wheaton,” said Beitler.

In its first year, the Summer Institute drew 116 students from 30 states and nine countries. The 2022 program marked the fulfillment of nearly two years of brainstorming and planning. Faculty members have been working on the program since fall 2020, observing other, similar programs around the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). 

Joshua Norton, who also teaches in the philosophy department, is the first director of the new institute. Norton said a lot of work went into making the Institute mirror life at the college. From working with faculty to craft courses, communicating expectations to parents, hiring RAs and planning chapels, the Institute staff created an environment as similar as possible to Wheaton everyday life during the school year.

“When you see things happen at the college, the director has to make sure it happens in some form in the Institute,” said Norton.

The Summer Institute was also an inventive recruitment tool, allowing students who may be considering applying to Wheaton to observe the college up close.

It’s been shown that if a student is able to actually come to campus, the more likely they’ll want to come here and spend time with us,” said Norton. “So it’s important to get them on campus.” 

Students who attended the Institute who do choose to apply to Wheaton will be in an expedited application process, and will be eligible for a $500 scholarship per year if they decide to enroll.

“The goals of the program are in part related to recruitment and in part wanting students to get the Wheaton experience,” said Beitler.

The program was announced around January 2022 and applications opened in mid-February. During the application process, students had to agree to the statement of faith and agree to abide by the community covenant. The college sent emails about the new program to students on an email list and created a new website for the Summer Institute.

On the website, students could look through the course catalog to sign up for their desired class. Neuroscience, economics and music drew the most students, but all 15 courses from a variety of fields — including music, Bible and theology, mathematics, and Chinese — filled up quickly. 

Beitler drew on material from his four-credit C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien class for the two-week program, examining selections from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” and “Tree and Leaf,” among others, through a Christian worldview.

We were really trying to introduce students to Tolkien’s works and get them thinking about the theme of creativity,” said Beitler. “Thinking about how Tolkien saw this world as it relates to his work as a philologist and his work inventing languages.”

Beitler’s class also ventured to the Wade Center, a hub of Tolkien scholarship, to give students a better grasp of Wheaton’s campus and research opportunities.

“We would occasionally go outside [the Wade Center]; it’s just delightful to be talking about Tolkien,” said Beitler. A trip to the nearby Morton Arboretum helped his students grasp Tolkien’s thinking about the natural world. Students also took excursions to Chicago to get a glimpse of the larger Chicagoland area.

Enoch Hill ‘05, an assistant professor of economics, taught a class called Just Economics at the Summer Institute. Hill said that as an undergrad student, he took great joy in Wheaton’s classes, studying economics, mathematics and computer science. At the Summer Institute, he was looking forward to passing on some of his favorite parts of Wheaton as a professor.

Wheaton attracts a really interesting ecumencial mix of Christians across the world, and it’s very engaging and interesting to interact with those people as a student,” said Hill. “You always want to share things that are good in your life. Seeing that other people caught some of that was really gratifying.”

After a successful inaugural year, Norton said he’s looking forward to next year’s program, which will largely remain the same but with a few tweaks. He said there will be more math and science courses offered, and the institute will potentially be open to rising sophomores. 

Between their classes and free-time, students at the Summer Institute received an in-depth look at Wheaton, which could inform their college decision. The program is similar to MyWheatonDays, a weekend of programming in April designed for admitted students, or the other events and visit options throughout the year for prospective students.

“If we believe that Wheaton College is a good place for students academically and spiritually, then so is Wheaton College Summer Institute,” said Norton. “The goods that Wheaton College can bring to a college-age person, we want to bring those same goods to high school students.”

Noah Cassetto

Noah Cassetto

Noah Cassetto is a junior studying international relations and Spanish. Originally from Southern California, Noah enjoys serving at church, going to national parks, and some good french fries.

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