Think like a Badger: Assistant Dean Christopher Pevey Harry talks future of Badger Precollege

Image of Christopher Pevey Harry with the words Think Like a Badger, Badger Precollege

Housed in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Division of Continuing Studies, Badger Precollege offers a host of academic programs available to students ages 5-18. Program offerings range from arts and STEM classes to residential music clinics and college readiness courses, and are delivered online or in person on the UW–Madison campus.

While precollege programming has been a fixture at UW–Madison for decades, Badger Precollege is developing new goals and initiatives thanks in large part to the work of Assistant Dean Christopher Pevey Harry, who arrived at UW–Madison in fall 2019. Below he shares a bit about what brought him to the role, his goals for increasing diversity and access to Badger Precollege, and what he’s most excited about as he looks to the program’s future. 

Tell us a little bit about your background and what you bring to your role in Badger Precollege.

I earned my BS degree in community education from UW–Milwaukee and an MA in education policy and society from King’s College in London. My early work career was spent aboard, first in Torino, Italy, where I managed training programs at FIAT Group and supported students at Università di Torino-SAA, then in London, where I worked closely with students studying abroad as the senior academic affairs administrator for Boston University’s London Program. Most recently I served as the director of Summer Session and Special Programs at Northwestern University, a position that included work with precollege students. I am currently pursuing my doctorate in educational policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois, specializing in equity and diversity.

I’m passionate about student access and diversity in education, particularly at the precollege level. I want to develop precollege programming at UW–Madison, both strategically and through new initiatives, that’s relevant to a wider student audience and gets them thinking about and planning for college.

Can you talk a little about the history of precollege programming at UW–Madison?

UW–Madison Continuing Studies has a decades-long tradition of offering precollege programs designed to engage young learners from around the world to challenge their curiosity and build community.

Summer Music Clinic, which is entering its 92nd year, continues to offer a residential music experience every summer for students interested in band, orchestra, choir and other music disciplines. Like all of our in-person programs, it’s going to look a little different this year due to COVID-19, but it continues to be extremely popular. Likewise, WCATY (Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth) is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021 and has developed a loyal and passionate following of students who have found community with academically curious peers. 

Both of these programs have been around long enough that we’ve seen multiple generations of family members attend — it’s really wonderful to see the kind of loyalty and enthusiasm families have for UW–Madison precollege programs. It’s an incredibly strong foundation on which to build as we look to the future of Badger Precollege.

Speaking of the future of Badger Precollege, tell us what you’re most excited about and what your goals are for the program.

I really want to open up our programs to include more students. When we launched our new Badger Summer Scholars program for high school students, for example, it was with the intention that it be open and accessible to any student interested in attending. This means developing a full diversity and inclusion plan to ensure we’re inviting students from all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, as well as those who have diverse learning needs. Our holistic admissions approach means we’re not just looking at grades and students who excel academically, but those who bring their own unique interests and passions.

We’re incorporating diversity and inclusion in learning objectives for our programs, too. For example, in our Badger Summer Scholars program, we developed Write On! Words Have Power! with UW–Madison’s Creative Writing program. This course explores the intersectionality between writing and social justice and is designed to help students think about the role they can have as activists, even at a young age. This is a unique direction for Badger Precollege, and it ensures that all students, regardless of their background, can engage in diversity topics. 

It’s our goal that at least 20–25 percent of students qualify for scholarships, which we base on free and reduced lunch or socioeconomic status. We’re partnering with schools across Wisconsin to reach more students interested in our programs.

Finally, we aim to give students — and particularly high school students — a real taste of what UW–Madison and the college experience are like. It’s important for students to experience campus before they get here, or to any other college or university. We partner with academic units to develop courses and topics with instructors who teach these same subjects to first-year undergraduate students. 

Badger Precollege runs similar to a mini university, with the goal of getting students comfortable with the idea of going to college. They don’t have to go to UW–Madison, but we want them to go to college somewhere. Our Jump Forward series, which is incorporated into many of our high school programs, provides resources and information about how to apply to college, the admissions process, how to secure financial aid and exploring a major or career.

How is Badger Precollege different from other youth programs offered at UW–Madison?

Badger Precollege has worked to build collaborations with UW schools and colleges to develop a curriculum reflecting the undergraduate academic experience. Courses borrow modules from existing undergraduate classes or take topics from current headlines. Many of our courses are taught by UW instructors, who help to strengthen connections to the university and foster a campus immersion experience.

Students who attend Badger Precollege develop the academic and social-emotional skills they need to transition successfully from high school to university, and to maintain persistence while in college. They also learn independence, responsibility and college readiness skills, which are essential for middle and high school students as they seek an immersive college life experience before attending university. 

It is important to our team that our programs also serve to help fill the academic gap, particularly those in underrepresented populations who are often most affected by the absence of routine and structure over the summer months. In addition, our programs provide a sense of community and, for many students, a safe haven over the summer months, a place and a time they look forward to all year when they reconnect with their summer “families.”

What’s the one thing you want students and their families to know about Badger Precollege?

Badger Precollege is open to all students, regardless of their academic intentions. We want students to bring their unique passions and talents to our learning community. To families and alumni, I’d say: Don’t miss out on the high-level academic programs we offer right on your doorstep. Badger Precollege is here for your students.

For questions about our programs, please contact Christopher Pevey Harry at christopher.peveyharry@wisc.edu.