Strengthen Critical Thinking Abilities

Our philosophy is based on the belief that the best policy decision-makers have acute critical thinking skills, effective writing techniques, and excellent research and data analysis abilities. At The Summer Academy, it is important to strengthen program participants’ critical thinking abilities and academic/policy writing, research, and analytical skills. Lesson plans will draw upon a variety of materials and methodologies to build students’ knowledge and prepare them for education and training in the classroom that ends with real-world professional development opportunities.

Summer Academy Session Dates

June 28 - July 11, 2020

The Summer Academy will combine fun activities with intensive learning experiences. Each two-week session will offer engaging and rewarding public policy course work. Top professors in their fields, policy experts, and leading decision-makers will introduce program participants to policy formation and analysis, economics, public administration, research methods, and statistics, as well as critical thinking, advocacy, and writing strategies. The total number of course contact hours will exceed the number of contact hours in a standard 16-week (three-credit-hour) semester course.

Program participants are introduced to policy studies through The Summer Academy and challenged to exercise their thinking skills and leadership abilities by applying their skills in real-world settings and finding their voice through advocacy and writing. Lesson plans will consist of lectures, workshops, round group discussions, small group exercises, guest speakers, and other learning and interactive modalities.

Guest speakers will allow participants to hear and speak with government, business, and nonprofit leaders about policy and its implications for their industries and constituents. Participants that complete the program will leave with an action plan to advocate for or write about a policy issue of concern to them and apply the tools and skills learned in their session.

Program Strategies

The Summer Academy encourages students to think about and engage in open dialogue on complex policy issues and to take action in their communities or society.

Education and Training: Participants are introduced to the field of public policy research and analysis through discussions of contemporary policy issues and challenges. Lesson plans are structured around critical thinking activities that incorporate factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive approaches to knowledge acquisition (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001), as well as multicultural education and non-cognitive skill development activities (Ecker-Lyster & Niileksela, 2017). Instructors and presenters will be noted professors, recognized professionals with real-world policy experience, and leading policy decision-makers, thinkers and writers, and advocates in their fields.

Project-based Model:
The curriculum will be designed to help participants develop critical thinking skills by working collaboratively to identify a problem that was either created as a result of policy decisions or a problem that they believe the action of policymakers could be addressed. Tackling a policy-related problem will build skills and talents and foster interests in policy areas.

Research and Writing:
Participants are encouraged to conduct research and write articles, editorials, and manuscripts for publication.

Participants are provided with training in a variety of strategies to debate their positions and advocate for policy change and educating policymakers and key stakeholders.

Professional Development:
Participants are encouraged to engage in learning, service, and community initiatives that sharpen their leadership skills and abilities.


Our goals are to (1) strengthen the links between underrepresented student populations, policy research and analysis, and undergraduate programs and public policy communities; and (2) provide high‐level research and analysis to support policymakers and practitioners and expand educational opportunity to all students.

The Summer Academy will help program participants become more aware of how legislative decisions and public policies impact groups and communities and will help program participants become better prepared to transition to undergraduate and graduate public policy, public affairs, public service, and public administration and management programs, as well as policy-related programs in other academic disciplines, such as law, health, business, and education.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the Summer Academy, participants will:

  1. Know key assumptions, methodologies, theories, and analytical tools of policy-making;
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of current policy issues and advocacy strategies to influence policy decision-making;
  3. Demonstrate analytical writing in the policy analysis context.

Curriculum Overview

The curriculum is based on a four-pronged pedagogical framework that moves from critical thinking to policy formation to policy analysis to advocacy and persuasion.

Each two-week public policy course will include six core modules:

  • Introduction to Public Policy Economics
  • Introduction to Research Methods
  • Introduction to Statistics
  • Policy Studies I (Policy Formation)
  • Policy Studies II (Policy Analysis)
  • Public Administration

The Summer Academy will offer three Specialty Workshops that focus on critical thinking, advocacy, and writing. Summer Academy participants will be provided with innovative instruction to enhance and test their abilities to translate theories into practice in real-world situations. Through a session in critical thinking, students will be challenged to approach and think about policy issues in new ways. Research Methods is a foundational course that is designed to equip students with the skills to collect, manage, and interpret data. Policy Studies I introduce participants to the policymaking process, and Policy Studies II presents participants with the contents for policy analysis.

Statistics will be taught as an independent course as well as integrated into the curriculum of other core courses. Economics will introduce participants to economic terms, theories, and models that are foundational for understanding public policy issues, and our Public Administration course will introduce participants to various aspects of government administration.

A series of all-campus guest speakers allows students to hear from top government, business, and nonprofit leaders about their experiences, perspectives, and guidance for young people who want to create change. Students leave the program with an action plan to address a need in their home community, applying the tools they learned in the course to an area of personal interest.

Summer Academy Palm Card


The following are tentative daily schedules for the Summer Academy:

Arrival Day Schedule Sunday, June 28, 2020

10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Participant Registration and Check-In
10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. College Bookstore Open for Purchases
11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Lunch
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Welcome/General Meeting for Participants, Parents, and Guests
3:00 p.m. Parents and Guests Depart
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Hall/Dormitory Meeting and Campus Tour for Participants
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Dinner
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Opening Speaker
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Evening Class
9:15 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. Hall/Dormitory Activities
11:00 p.m. Lights Out

Typical Weekday Schedule

8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Morning Class or Plenary Session
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Afternoon Class
3:15 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Advocacy/Writing Workshop
5:45 p.m. - 6:45 p.m. Dinner
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Evening Class or Plenary Session
9:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. Hall Meetings & Social Time
11:00 p.m. Lights Out

Departure Day Schedule Saturday, July 11, 2020

7:00 p.m. - 8:30 a.m. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Final Class Meeting
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Students Pack-up and Clean Rooms
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Closing Ceremony (Parents Invited to Attend)
2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Parent-Teacher/Student-Teacher Conferences
2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Final Check-Out with Hall Proctors
4:00 p.m. Departure

Schedules and faculty are subject to change.

Application Process

Administrators from The Summer Academy welcome all applications from high achievers, gifted learners, and academically-committed students. Policy Pathways recognizes that different criteria are employed to identify high achievers, gifted learners, and academically-committed students, including grades, standardized test scores, teacher observations, parental assessments, and student interviews.

Additionally, Policy Pathways also acknowledges that many tests and criteria are biased towards students from particular backgrounds or groups. Policy Pathways seeks the inclusion of participants across a broad spectrum of students and aims to place particular focus on the recruitment of students from historically underrepresented populations and students who narrowly missed being identified as high achievers or gifted learners, but who have demonstrated a commitment to academic success.

Policy Pathways administrators will work with gifted education coordinators, teachers, parents, students, and community members to identify program participants. The Summer Academy aims to devise a referral process that emphasizes the identification of students from underserved populations in an effort to foster greater diversity in the applicant pool and among program participants.  The Summer Academy applicants must be rising sophomore, junior, and senior high school students; recent high school graduates; community college students; or freshmen and sophomores enrolled in college or university between 15 and 25 years of age.  Applicants must complete an application and provide a letter of recommendation from an individual (e.g., teacher, professor, employer, pastor, mentor, or community leader) familiar with their interests, academic or volunteer work, or organizational or community involvement.

Fees and Tuition Rates

Application Fee
Participant application fee (nonrefundable and not applied to tuition) - $70

Tuition per Two-Week Session
Residential student (includes instruction, room and board, and books) - $2,200

Commuter student (includes instruction, meals, and books) - $1,50

Program Benefits

Policy Pathways is a center that offers preparatory courses and learning experiences for students interested in public policy. Policy Pathways, students, faculty, academic institutions, and the community mutually benefit from the learning and teaching process. The academic experiences and interpersonal interactions are designed to benefit student, academic, and the community.

Participants: Program participants benefit by engaging in student-centered programmatic activities that are structured to enrich learning; enhance core competency in four areas that are critical to the success of someone interested in policy studies.

Parents: Policy Pathways recognizes the significant roles that parents play in recognizing and advocating for gifted and high-achieving students. Parents are instrumental in increasing diversity in gifted and high-achieving educational programs. Policy Pathways will host informational gatherings for parents who are interested in learning more about Policy Pathways and other programs for gifted, high-achieving, and academically-committed students, as well as intellectually curious and underachieving gifted learners. The Virginia Board of Education contends: “Increasing diversity through parent education is paramount to the effort to reach a broad spectrum of students in need of gifted education services,” (Virginia Department of Education, 2017: 7).

Faculty: Program instructors will be rewarded by using their skills and talents to create educational and training experiences that are designed to help students increase their likelihood of successful collegiate experiences.

Academic Institutions: Partner academic institutions will benefit from broader departmental and program awareness among their target populations, students who are better prepared for matriculation through their programs, and the possibility for even greater diversity among their student populations. The host academic institution will benefit from building even greater connections with current and potential students, as well as establishing and strengthening inter-organizational relationships across schools, programs, disciplines, and constituents.

Community: The community and families will benefit from students who are more confident in their abilities to perform well in challenging college and university courses, as well as from students who have stronger voices as future graduate students, employees, and leaders.

Program Outcomes

After completing a session, a Summer Academy participant should:

  1. Be able to think critically about and apply critical reflection techniques to policy issues;
  2. Have acquired knowledge of key policy formation processes and theories;
  3. Be familiar with advocacy strategies and approaches;
  4. Be able to think critically about and engage in basic policy analysis;
  5. Have acquired an introduction to public policy statistics, economics, and research methods;
  6. Have completed at least one written document for publication on a blog or in a magazine, newspaper, or journal; and
  7. Have increased preparation and confidence to pursue policy-focused degree programs and careers.