This summer, Rowland Hall senior Aislinn Mitcham embarked on an exciting learning opportunity: she spent four weeks at Oxford University in England, taking classes taught by university professors and living in the undergraduate dorms. While many peers spent the summer preparing to apply for college, Aislinn experienced what attending college might actually be like, and she considers herself fortunate. "It reinvigorated me for the college application process," she said, and gave her a balanced perspective heading into the busy fall semester.
Founded in 1985, the Oxford Tradition offers high school students entering grades 10 through 12 a chance to study with leading academics and earn college credit. Each student must choose a major and minor area of study from a wide variety of courses, and Aislinn—who earned one of the program's highly selective scholarships—opted to major in engineering and minor in medical science. In her engineering class, which met for three-hour sessions six days a week, students tackled projects ranging from building an FM radio to learning Python, a coding language. Aislinn plans to study engineering in college and found the class a perfect fit, especially since Rowland Hall doesn't offer specific courses in engineering. She credited Upper School teacher Robin Hori, who encouraged her to attend the program and wrote a letter of recommendation for her scholarship application, saying that the project-based learning in his physics class prepared her well for the demands of Oxford.
Rowland Hall prepared Aislinn to test the waters of the college experience in a practical sense too. While the program has structured times for classes and many suggested social activities for the evenings, students are ultimately responsible for their own schedules. "It's your responsibility to be up, to know when breakfast is, to know when dinner is," Aislinn said. "And I do feel we have that responsibility here, to a certain extent. If you don't have a class, you're allowed to be other places, but you have to be back on time, and get your stuff done."
Aislinn also embraced a mentoring role in her peer group—one she doesn't always play at home, as the younger sibling—and even taught other program students how to do laundry.
Aislinn and her friends at the end-of-program formal dinner
The people she met, and the friendships she formed, are what Aislinn will remember the most about her time at Oxford. She bonded with other students during cultural activities, including visiting local museums, going on ghost tours, and attending a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Aislinn acknowledged that being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces was intimidating at first, but she got over any initial shyness. "Getting to meet people who have completely different world views and world experiences was really important to me," she said.
Aislinn acknowledged that being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces was intimidating at first, but she got over any initial shyness. "Getting to meet people who have completely different world views and world experiences was really important to me," she said.
Aislinn will use her experience studying abroad to help guide her future learning as well. While she previously regarded attending an out-of-state college as a must, she is now considering nearby options—such as the U—as well. "I loved being away in a new environment, but I also realized how important my family is to me," she said, adding that the U is a really good school, and students shouldn't "just ignore it because it's close."
Regardless of where she ends up, Aislinn has real-world practice in engineering that she can draw upon, thanks to the Oxford program. The last week of class, they attempted to build robots, but they couldn't get them to synchronize successfully with their phones. "One of my favorite things about the program," Aislinn said, "was learning how much of engineering is trying and failing, trying and failing. Even my teacher didn't always know why things were failing."
The process of discovery—in the classroom and throughout her time abroad—is something Aislinn hopes other Rowland Hall students can have as well. "Go into it with an open mind," she encouraged. "It's an amazing experience."