The Summer Academy to Inspire Learning

SAIL launches 500 students on a course toward college

When Marissa McDaniel was a sophomore at Springfield High School, she was interested in college but wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I had no reference for college,” she said. “I already knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have a reason to.”

But after three summers participating in the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning on the UO campus, McDaniel had a change of perspective.

“It helped me see I could have a future,” she said. “It made me feel like I had a purpose.”

McDaniel is about to start her second year at the UO and served this summer as a SAIL counselor.

This summer marked SAIL’s 13th year at the UO. Founded by economics professors Bruce Blonigen and Bill Harbaugh, and funded largely by private gifts, the mentoring program is aimed at middle and high school students from underrepresented backgrounds, including lower-income and first-generation homes. The goal is to expose them to college life and encourage them to pursue higher education.

Last spring, of the 98 high school seniors who participated in SAIL, 97 enrolled in college, including 41 at the UO, said SAIL Executive Director Lara Fernandez.

“We believe in them,” she said. “We want to provide connections and show them all the opportunities that are here.”

About 500 students registered for the week-long SAIL programs this summer, up 30 percent from last year, Fernandez said. Students participated in 18 different areas of study, including biology, product design, performing arts, environmental studies, physics and human physiology.

“It’s all very experiential,” she said. “They’re doing.”

That might mean walking along the Willamette River, working in a chemistry lab, identifying mutations in the zebrafish lab or participating in a music recording camp. Or even paying a visit to the UO’s cadaver lab.

The lab, located in the basement of Klamath Hall, houses up to eight human cadavers, donated each spring to the UO so students taking advanced anatomy can dissect them.

As SAIL students filed into the lab, graduate student Alia Yasen told them to take no photos and to respect the cadavers, reminding them the bodies were once someone’s mother, father, brother, sister.

By turns, the students handled bones, brains and hearts before Yasen began opening the eight metal caskets to reveal cadavers that had been dissected by UO students earlier in the spring.

Some students hung back, while others moved in to examine the bodies and touch organs and muscles.

Emmy Sanchez, a South Eugene High School student, confessed to being a bit shocked by the sight of the bodies. But she’s interested in a career in a health profession so she knows understanding human anatomy is important.  

Participating in SAIL has helped to bring her dream of a college education closer to reality, she said.

“Doing SAIL has made me a lot more comfortable about coming here,” she said. “It’s a good bridge to understanding and being more comfortable around a university setting.”

By Tim Christie, University Communications