Posted by William Nunnelley on 2012-07-09

Margaret Mason, a high school student from Columbus, Ga., said she became excited about studying the ancient philosophies of Cicero and Plato during the annual Great Ideas Summer Institute (GISI) at Samford University in June.

Abigail Slone, another high schooler from Powell, Ohio, said she enjoyed the in-depth discussions about influential authors at GISI.  They "challenged me to think about why I believe what I believe, and how to translate that into becoming a better citizen," she said.

That's exactly what the leaders of GISI hoped would happen.  The program "is an opportunity for serious high school students to engage in intense discussions on some of the most important ideas in Western history," said Dr. Bryan Johnson, GISI director.

The second institute hosted 15 high school juniors and seniors for a week of study and discussion on "Greece, Rome, and the American Republic."  Sponsored by Samford's University Fellows program, the schedule included daily seminars on the works of Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Cicero, Jefferson, Hamilton and others led by history professor Jason Wallace, classics professor Shannon Flynt and Johnson, an English professor.

"Central to the success of the seminar were four Samford University Fellows who mentored the GISI students," said Johnson.  "Steve Carnell, Jared Miller, Audrey Ward and Kaleena Woodruff participated in class discussions and helped organize out-of-class activities like trips to the Birmingham Museum of Art (above) and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute."

But the GISI students were encouraged to take the lead in discussions.

"The professors and University Fellows built a foundation for discussions, then objectively stepped out of the equation, allowing the GISI students to hash out ideas presented in given texts," said Johnson.

How successful was this approach?

"I loved that the environment was filled with an intellectual curiosity that stimulated discussions dealing with fundamental ideals such as liberty and justice," said Slone.

"The concepts explored both in and out of the classroom allowed me to further analyze my own perception of the world," said Mason.  "Instead of merely passively accepting information, I learned to actively uncover and apply ancient philosophies to the modern era."