By Alex Zivkovic
Explaining TASP to people who have never heard of it is probably the biggest downside about attending TASP. Everyone who attends TASP complains about that. Living in a house and taking a seminar? That does not sound very exciting. The Wikipedia page seems unreliable because it cites the College Confidential website as a source and other links from the TASP google search are not the TASP.
I’ll start by giving the textbook definition of TASP. First of all, TASP is the Telluride Association Summer Program, a free six-week summer program for rising high school seniors. This year, 64 students received scholarships to attend one of two locations (Cornell University or the University of Michigan) and take one of the two seminars offered at each location. The topics, while all humanities-centered, included science (political repercussions of the theory of evolution) and art (modern theater) at UMichigan, and politics (the future of diversity in democracies) and literature (moral complexity in literature) at Cornell.
The program attracts the “top humanities students,” but it is not strictly speaking a humanities program and it is not strictly speaking only for speech-and-debate-loving students or Model United Nations representatives. My TASP, Democracy and Diversity at Cornell, had several students who intended to major in the hard sciences (from biotechnology to astrophysics) and saw TASP as a detour from their normal routine or just a topic they like to pursue as a hobby. The common aspect all TASPers share is the willingness to learn and intellectual curiosity on everything, not just their seminar’s topic or what they want to major.
This should be no surprise, since the process to get into TASP is incredibly thorough. Essays are written on six prompts in the first round, four of which are full-length 1500 word essays. At this point, there were 1,350 applications. Interviews are given to 140 of them based only off of their writing and the life experiences they described. From this pool of 140, each person had one or two hours interviews and 64 applicants are picked. Interviews (all past TASP alumni) select the final TASPers by choosing applicants that they believe will work well together to have the best discussions. Racial diversity is important and there is an exactly even gender divide in each seminar as well.
But this was just the definition part, sorry it took so long. The program is more than just the statistics.
TASP takes place in Telluride Association property and, at Cornell, this is the historic Telluride House (built in 1910). This building has space to accommodate rooms for the 32 TASPers, 2 factota, and the Program Assistants, a large kitchen, dining hall, two seminar rooms, a game room, a small library, a balcony, porch, three lounge areas, and offices for the Telluride Association staff.
Classes are conducted downstairs in the seminar rooms and each class features at least one writing assignment per week with daily lectures from your two professors and daily discussion and daily reading assignments (books, critical essays, speeches, news articles, and anything and everything that could possibly come up in informal discussion later as well).
While the focus is the seminar (three hours a day everyday) the rest of the time is spent planning out events and listening to academic presentations from professors or other students and discussing. Discussions were held everywhere: over lunch, during reading, over dinner, during games, over near-midnight snack, right before bed, and first thing in the morning before seminar.
Discussions can be over serious topics (everything controversial was brought up in the first week) but can also be over something silly like embarrassing stories from our childhoods or things that our schools are famous for (mine was the 10 ACT scholars). The events at our TASP included a “tapas night,” a trip to the waterfall, a glow-in-the-dark dance, and a murder mystery party. But that is just what we chose to do. And that is precisely what TASP is. It is what your group makes of it. The funds are there and the advisors and staff are there to guide you. Ultimately, what past TASPs did does not matter. You organize your free time and have a taste of self-governance. What matters is what you want to bring up in discussions, what you want to do for fun, and how you spend time with other people.
The people and the house foster this interaction. The people are interesting enough to make you want to meet them and living in one house forces you to be close together (but I swear you do not mind, even if you are an introvert like myself). At my TASP in Cornell, we had 5 international students (South Korea, Great Britain, Portugal, China, and Guam) with the other 27 representing 18 states. Most represented states had one or two people, but California had five with two from the Bay Area, one from Riverside County, and two from Orange County.
TASP is an intellectual experience, but that experience is not just in the classroom setting. If that does not interest you, then out of class discussions will. If that does not interest you, then you’ll like the 20 minute presentation you have to give. Any interest one has in academics or current events or art will be fostered here since someone else will have the same interest and if no one does, they’ll be eager to hear your thoughts. And that is the key to this program. Everyone wants to learn and the community you build merely fosters intellectual development in whatever direction you want.
Applications are released in December on the Telluride Association’s website (http://www.tellurideassociation.org/programs/high_school_students/tasp/tasp_general_info.html).