December 12, 2019

The Twenty Students in The Workshop: Why & How They Applied

A look at what drew students to The Workshop and how they applied
by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

Getting rising seniors interested in The Workshop, Andover’s school within a school, wasn’t hard. It seems many are as interested in shaking up traditional school structures as the faculty. Fifty or so showed up at the information session in September. Some, like Sadie ’20, had learned about The Workshop from roommates or friends, while others, like Isabel ’20, had been encouraged by an instructor to learn more. “M. [Corrie] Martin is such an influential teacher in my Andover career,” says Mikheev ’20, “and I was intrigued and inspired by her dedication to and excitement about this project.”

A week later, thirty-four students arrived at the Tang Institute to follow through with an application. Each grabbed a questionnaire and set to work. The questions were thoughtful and personal:

  • Where do you consider home to be? How do you feel where you are from contributes to who you are?
  • Tell us more about your educational/schooling background. What kind of schools have you attended in the past? What has nurtured your intellectual sense of curiosity?
  • Imagine you were going to start a school. What would kids be doing and learning in your school? How, if at all, would it be different from what you have done in the past? What is worth keeping?
  • Think about a time you have participated in a collaborative learning experience. What did you like about working in that group? What was difficult?
  • What can you do? What do you like to do? List 3­–5 skills you have and/or some activities you like to spend time pursuing.
  • A couple more tidbits…


    • Are you planning to sit any AP exams in the spring?
    • Are you applying to UCAS Schools? If so, do you still have AP exams to sit?

The students’ responses were equally thoughtful and personal. For example, some talked about home in terms of geographical location—New York City, Shanghai, Boulder, Seattle, Japan, Argentina. A few referenced a specific person, like the student who wrote, “Home is wherever my mom is.” And still others separated their place of residence from their cultural home, for example, New York and Nigeria.

The responses to all questions made it clear that the students were looking for something. Many described a strong preference for interdisciplinary learning, the opportunity to pursue passion projects, and the lure of a nontraditional classroom setting. “I am interested in doing community-based projects and am excited to have the flexibility to learn through other research opportunities,” Sadie ’20 said. Claire ’20 echoed that interest, and also acknowledged that this opportunity includes the gift of working with a talented group of instructors. “I was drawn to the creative, interdisciplinary approach to learning and the faculty I knew were involved in the group,” she said.

Ideally the faculty would have been able to accept all applicants to The Workshop, but there had to be a limit for this inaugural run. There’s a lot of learning to be done about how to disrupt traditional school structures, and a small class will facilitate that process. While faculty members enjoyed reading the applications and learned a lot about each student as they did, they did not want the decision of who was in and who wasn’t to be based on a set list of qualities or the right answer. “This kind of learning experience can be transformative for any student, not just a curated group,” says Andy Housiaux, director of the Tang Institute. For this reason, they randomized the selection process.

At the end of the day, nineteen students were chosen for the first Workshop. There’s a whistler, a couple of philosophers, a song writer, a horror movie buff, a stock and markets aficionado, lots of readers and musicians, a few runners, and many travelers. “We wanted a mixture of different experiences, skill sets, and personalities,” says Nicholas Zufelt, instructor in math, statistics, and computer science. They got it. This is a diverse group of twenty young, curious humans looking to learn from each other, their communities, and the world.

In just a few months, this fascinating mix will hunker down with eight faculty members and dig deeply into the chosen theme, Community, Class, and Carbon. As Claire ’20 says, it will be a pretty good way to spend a senior spring.

Categories: The Workshop, Featured

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