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Introducing Idea Lab

Oregon Humanities’ institute for teens and teachers combines two popular programs

May 9, 2012 | By Eloise Holland, Oregon Humanities

Before attending Idea Lab last summer, high school senior Jordan Reese hadn’t considered how something as simple as his cell phone affected his relationships and, in effect, his happiness. “I never thought about how impersonal sending a text to someone is,” he says. “It’s inspired me to be more, I guess you could say, ‘physical’ in how I talk and deal with people.”

The interplay between technology and friendship is one of many topics explored by rising high school seniors during Oregon Humanities’ Idea Lab Summer Institute. For the past six years, this three-day residential program (formerly known as Happy Camp Summer Honors Symposium) has brought together Oregon teens and teachers on the campus of the University of Portland to explore the pursuit of happiness and its effect on our culture.

“It’s a profoundly intellectual experience,” says Director of Programs Jennifer Allen. However, sharpening teens’ analytical skills is only one of the goals of the program. Another is nurturing an intergenerational interest in the humanities. “The humanities audiences are ageing,” says Allen. “It’s important to be seeking and engaging younger people, so they see that the humanities don’t just live in classrooms, but in the public.”

Because of the cerebral nature of the institute, the program recently underwent a name change. Teachers and students alike felt that “Happy Camp” didn’t reflected the academic rigor of the program. Plus, Idea Lab Program Coordinator Alicia Crawford says, “The name ‘Idea Lab’ hints at the ways in which we might expand and refine the program in the future.”

One area of growth is professional development for Oregon secondary school teachers. Before the institute, fellows participate in training and planning sessions and can earn continuing education credits. These changes come on the heels of a recent decision to end Oregon Humanities’ seventeen-year-old Summer Teacher Institute despite consistently enthusiastic evaluations from participants. Declining enrollment, due largely to economic pressures faced by schools and teachers, was a deciding factor.

“We felt that as a statewide organization with a broad audience, we were most interested in a program where teachers could learn and then turn around and immediately apply that learning,” says Allen. Investing more energy to develop the teaching side of Idea Lab was the perfect solution.

Other changes are also afoot. A new alumni group for scholars will hold real and virtual events throughout the year, allowing students to stay in touch and share their senior year and college experiences with fellow alums.

For students like Reese, this is welcome news. “The best part of Happy Camp, for me, was meeting all the new people and hearing all the ideas they had,” he says. “Talking to new people and learning about happiness in so many different aspects helped shape the person I am now.”