Students at Ashbrook Center
Students listen to a professor speak at one of the Ashbrook Academies hosted at Ashland University during the summer of 2023. Students get two elective credits in political science from Ashland University for completing an academy. Credit: Ashbrook Center

ASHLAND — Kimberly Hurt didn’t plan on attending college until last year, after she attended an Ashbrook summer academy at Ashland University. 

The Ashbrook Academies, run through AU’s Ashbrook Center, serve high school students entering their junior and senior years. The academies are week-long summer classes that run from mid-June to the end of July. 

Historically, they’ve focused on history and politics. This summer, the academy offerings expanded to include week-long programs on psychology, literature and film as well as crime-scene investigation. AU faculty members teach the courses. 

Students pay $750 to attend an academy, and stay on AU’s campus for the week they’re in the program. Upon completing one of the programs, students receive two elective credits from Ashland University, transferable to other institutions too. 

Students like Hurt, a rising high school senior from Tampa, Florida, come from around the country to participate in the programs. Hurt’s middle school teacher, who attended AU, connected her with the academies. 

Hurt said she’s attended three of the acadmies over the last two years. Her favorite focused on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. More than anything, she said the academies have offered her social skills and an ability to work together with people. 

“I feel more prepared for school,” Hurt said. “I definitely want to come here. I didn’t plan on college last year but I came here and fell in love with campus. I’m from a big city, so I really like the small-town vibes.” 

This summer’s academies wrapped up with a discussion about education on Saturday. 

Two AU professors — Gregory McBrayer and Jason Stevens — posed questions to students based on readings they had completed. 

Stevens and McBrayer asked about the definition of a liberal education, different types of education students receive and why education is important. 

Students engaged in a conversation, drawing on W.E.B. Du Bois, Mark Twain, Plato and Shakespeare to support their positions. 

“Education is freedom to learn how and what you want,” one student said. 

“It’s a torch of knowledge and discovery that will lead out of unknowing and darkness and into knowledge,” another contributed. 

Students participate in one of this summer’s Ashbrook Academies, which took place at Ashland University between June-July 2023. This year’s offerings included academies on World War II, capitalism versus socialism and psychology. Credit: Ashbrook Center

Students shared that they learned how to accept when they were wrong and alter their opinions.

Melody Rzeszotarski was an active participant in the final conversation on Saturday. Hailing from Montoursville, Pennsylvania, she’ll be a senior this year. She finished an academy last week focusing on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“The Supreme Court isn’t as evil as people make it out to be,” Rzeszotarski said. “Learning the difference between moral opinions and constitutional ones made me understand those are hard decisions to make.” 

Like Hurt, Rzeszotarski’s teacher connected her to the Ashbrook Academy summer programs. Many students share that story. 

According to Ben Kunkel, director of student programs at the Ashbrook Center, that’s because teachers involved in the center’s Teaching American History graduate program can nominate students to come to the academies with a scholarship.  

Students don’t have to be college-bound right away to participate though. Catherine Wright of Pickerington, is a 17-year-old. She’s entering her senior year and plans to take a year or two off of school before thinking about college. 

Still, she attended three Ashbrook Academies this summer — ones on capitalism versus socialism, politics and literature and utopias and dystopias in literature and film. 

“All the academies they offer, I felt like I could get something out of it,” Wright said. 

And she did. She said she developed an understanding of political theories like capitalism, socialism and Marxism. She also has an appreciation for what it takes to tell a great story through writing or film. 

Wright found out about the academies during her junior year of high school and won’t be eligible to return next year. But if she could, she said she would.

Rzeszotarski has attended Ashbrook Academy programming the last two summers. She hopes to attend Georgetown University in the fall to study political science and Russian language and literature. 

But, she said she likes the educational model in the academies so much that she’s also considering applying at AU. 

“We’re given materials, and a schedule and treated as an equal within the classroom setting,” Rzeszotarski said.

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...