Note: This is OLD STUFF!! I have incorperated and expanded many of the points in these essays into other parts of the alumni page. Some of this information is out of date! There is no more uOCTYAA that I am working on! Keep that in mind!!
For many CTY students, CTY is more than just a fancy summer school. CTY is an important social and developmental factor in their life. Many students become social outcasts in their own schools because of their talent, and CTY is the first place where they are not judged nerds and dorks because of their differences. The friendships created through CTY are strong, and often last through years and distance. Sometimes, CTY gives students the social skills and confidence necessary to make better friends in their own towns. CTY also provides a safe place for learning, both academically and developmentally. In a world where knowledge and love of learning often produce teasing and ostrization, a place where students can express their eagerness to learn becomes a sort of safe haven. During a time in their lives where teenagers face increasing pressures to conform to social standards which do not validate their gifts, CTY provides a safe place to explore those gifts, as well as a safe place for students to explore themselves without many of the social pressures of the outside world. The learning and exploration that occurs at CTY- academically, socially, and internally- often help the students face an unforgiving world with greater strength. It is these factors, I have heard time and time again from students of all sites and ages, that keep them returning to CTY summer after summer and encourage them to keep in touch with their CTY friends throughout the year. In the weeks after a CTY session, most students go through what is called "CTY Withdrawal" or "Post CTY Depression" where they miss their CTY friends and experiences very intensely. During their high school years, many CTY students and alumni keep CTY and the social relationships it creates as an important part of their lives. They create CTY web pages, join mailing lists, write letters, make long distance phone calls, and attend reunions. Often, when alumni enter college, they grow more distant from their CTY friends and experiences as they become more involved with the new experiences being presented to them. However, a number of them find ways to integrate CTY as part of their non-CTY life, by continuing contact with CTY friends and applying to be staff members during their summers. Even students who become much less involved with the CTY community usually keep one or two CTY friends throughout the years, in addition to the lessons CTY has taught them. In some fashion or another, CTY has created a community that extends beyond the six weeks of summer and lasts years. I believe that not only does CTY have a responsibility to help support this community, the existence of this community can help CTY grow and develop. The way to do this is through a more effective Alumni Association. Many of the CTY alumni I have talked to about this issue were surprise to find out that an Alumni Association even exists. Those who have heard of it don't feel like it is doing anything at all. Several students expressed bitterness, stating that since CTY can no longer make money off of them, the program is no longer interested in them or their insights. Students who have proposed ideas and possible alumni events feel that their ideas were ignored or not followed through.
As recently as 1996, the CTY Alumni Association organized events and produced publications and was overall an active organization. However, staff changes and changes in goals has made it difficult for the current Alumni Association to be an effective program. The current Alumni and Development staff consists of four people who's main purpose is to focus on Development and raise funds for the program. Though the current staff is a very dedicated and talented group, there simply isn't time for them to address the Alumni Association the way it should be addressed. However, they seem to be open to suggestions.
Creating a more effective Alumni Association would serve many purposes. CTY students are talented individuals who often find themselves in high paying jobs. I know that currently many students and parents are asked to make donations to CTY. For many students, this is the only contact they get from CTY after they leave the program, thus making them less likely to donate money. However, if they are kept in continued contact with the program through the Alumni Association, they are more likely to give money when asked. Considering the relatively low cost of the continued contact, the return gained in donations would most likely more than cover the cost. Secondly, if alumni are respected and encouraged to continue their contact with CTY after they leave the program, they are more likely to assist in recruitment programs, such as talking to perspective students about the CTY experience. Alumni testimony could be a powerful force in convincing perspective CTY students and their parents to invest in CTY. Finally, in recent years, a segment of the student and alumni population has been upset by what they view as negative changes in CTY. An active Alumni Association would both see that this groups concerns are addressed in an efficient manner and give students and alumni a place to go to see that their concerns are heard.
Ideally, a student alumni coordinator would become a regular position, held a few years by one alumnus and then passed on to another. This would address the problem of staff shortage, and allow the Alumni Association to keep in continued contact with the changing body of CTY alumni. The purpose of this position would be to coordinate the four main activities that I believe should be sponsored by CTY to create a stronger Alumni Association. These activities are as follows:
1. A bimonthly postal newsletter:
Students and alumni would receive an offer to join a bimonthly postal newsletter, each issue about four pages long. Each issue would contain upcoming CTY events, articles by alumni and students, and alumni relations news. From what I have read about the magazine "Insights" it seems to be focused on gifted education and academic advancement. While the main focus of CTY is the academic advancement of talented youth, it also serves a very distinct and important social and cultural role in the lives other students who attend its programs. "Insights" does not address this role. Furthermore, "Insights" seems to be mostly written by people who have never attended CTY, whereas the proposed newsletter would be written entirely by students, alumni, and faculty. This would give the newsletter a different perspective which would most likely capture all the facets of CTY more completely. I have heard of another publication, "The CTYer" which seemed to be a lot like the proposed newsletter, but it also seems to be currently defunct. The design of the newsletter would simple, keeping production costs down. The cost of a year's subscription would be in the neighborhood of five dollars, which would cover production and postage. Support needed from CTY would be start up costs to inform alumni of the newsletter, pertinent address lists so that former students could be notified, and the distribution of fliers about the newsletter to students.
2. An on-line e-mail discussion group:
Students and alumni, through the newsletter, flyers, and web page, would receive an invitation to join an on-line discussion mailing list. Any alumni could post to this list, free of charge, merely by signing on as a member. Discussion on this list would be about CTY related issues, gifted education issues, intellectual issues, and college and future plans. One or two unofficial lists of this type exist, and seem to be very useful and enjoyable for the students. By sponsoring such a list, CTY could both provide students with continuing contact with the CTY community and monitor current alumni opinions about CTY and related issues, thus being able to take the student point of view into account when making decisions for the program. CTY students are gifted and insightful individuals who have many suggestions about how CTY can better serve its target audience. Other than access to a listserve (preferable one related to JHU) and time costs, there would be very little production costs for this project. Advertising costs are covered in the newsletter production costs.
3. An extension of the website:
Currently, the website consists of an address list and web page list, a solicitation for alumni news, and information about "Insights." An extended website would also include an archive of the mailing list, announcements, and links to CTY related pages, of which there are many. The Alumni Webpage would become a resource for students who wish to continue their involvement with the program and prospective students who wish to find out more about the program. Other than time costs, this would cost no more than the webpage already does.
4. Official CTY Reunions:
Perhaps the one thing alumni want most out of the Alumni Association is official CTY reunions. CTY creates strong friendships which in some cases last a lifetime. However, because of distances, these students often don't get to see these friends during the year. In many cases, CTY socially takes on similar importance to students as their high school does, but where high schools organize reunions regularly, CTY hasn't done so for several years. Unofficial reunions are often held, but they are usually small affairs hosted by supportive parents. I would estimate that during the week between Christmas and New Years, a prime time for CTY reunions, hundreds of CTY students attend unofficial CTY reunions or visit CTY friends in dozens of locations across the country. By hosting CTY reunions, CTY can show that it supports the social importance the program has on the life of the students. These reunions would be held once or twice a year in a major city. Costs would be minimal, mainly payment for a place to hold the reunion and perhaps travel costs for staff members to organize and chaperon the reunion. The reunions would be announced in the newsletter, on the web page, and over the discussion list.
Once these four things are implemented, other alumni programs could be started as they are proposed or needed.