Summer Program Blog
The Summer Program Team
Most of the prefects have arrived on campus, and they are working with the Admissions staff on last-minute preparations for this year’s High School Summer Program.
With students due to arrive on Sunday, the prefects are readying rooms in the residence halls, distributing books, and setting up for the opening picnic. On Sunday they will be at Los Angeles International Airport, ready to greet arriving students and bring them to campus. They will be wearing these bright red T-shirts, so they should not be hard to spot!
Following our introductions of the 2015 High School Summer Program chaplains and prefects (parts one, two, and three), we now present the second installment in a two-part series introducing this year’s faculty. (See part one.)
Michael Letteney“I really enjoy it when students whom I’ve taught in the High School Program come back to me a few years later in Junior Philosophy or Senior Theology,” says Michael Letteney, who is returning for his 13th year as a Summer Program tutor. “It’s rewarding to see the potential — and then the transformation.” He also witnesses that transformation at home, as the eldest four of his eight children have attended the program, and the younger four plan to follow suit. Mr. Letteney and his wife, Marilyn (Ellis ’88), are both graduates of the College. He earned his masters and doctoral degrees in philosophy and the history and philosophy of science at the University of Notre Dame.
Katherine Gardner In this, her second year as a tutor in the Summer Program, Katherine Gardner says she is most looking forward to the “Euclid mornings” — the early sessions in the program’s first week, in which students learn and demonstrate Euclidean propositions. The fourth of nine children in her family, she has two brothers here at the College: Patrick, a fellow tutor, and Peter, a rising junior. She thus has experienced the Summer Program both as an educator and as a big sister, noting that it was “the pivotal factor” in Peter’s decision to come to the College. Miss Gardner holds a master’s degree in theology from the International Theological Institute and a doctorate in philosophy from Ave Maria University.
David GrothoffA new member of the teaching faculty, David Grothoff is excited to be teaching in his first Summer Program. When he came to the College as a student in 2003, he had already earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, but he was so intrigued by the College’s academic program that he decided to start over as a “second-time freshman.” Since graduating in 2007, he has completed his doctoral studies in philosophy at The Catholic University of America and is now busily finishing his dissertation, “Aristotle on Prime Matter as a Principle of Extension.” Mr. Grothoff and his wife, Crystal, are expecting their first child, due in December.
Peter KnuffkeJoining Mr. Grothoff as a new member of the College’s faculty is Peter Knuffke, a Thomas Aquinas College alumnus and the brother of two past Summer Program attendees. Following his graduation in 2004, he earned a licentiate and doctorate in classical and Christian Letters at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome, after which he conducted research in Eastern Christian theology for two years in Athens, Greece. “This Summer Program will be the first teaching I will do as a tutor at the College,” he reflects. “I am looking forward to meeting the high school students and introducing them to some of the great masters of the intellectual tradition.”
Jared KueblerHaving successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in theology at Ave Maria University in May, Jared Kuebler now eagerly awaits his first experience of teaching in the Summer Program. “I am very much looking forward to discussing the wonderful lineup of texts,” he says. “But most of all I am excited about meeting many bright young minds from all over the country.” Mr. Kuebler met his wife, Maria (Kaiser ’03), while a student at the College, and they have six children ranging in age from 6 months to 10 years. “When we are not reading, homeschooling, or making music together,” he says, “we mostly enjoy hiking the mountains of the Golden State and surfing its beaches.”
Christopher OlesonIf you visit the lower portion of the campus on certain afternoons during the academic year, you may encounter Christopher Oleson, accompanied by some of his students, practicing Brazilian jujitsu or Filipino sword-fighting. A skilled martial artist, Mr. Oleson is also a convert to the Faith and, with his wife, Rachel, the parent of seven children. He holds a master of arts in religion from the Yale Divinity School and a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. He is a strong proponent of the Discussion Method used in the College’s classes, including those on the Summer Program. “It is much more mentally draining” than lecturing, he says, “but it’s also much more stimulating.”
Following our introductions of the 2015 High School Summer Program chaplains and prefects (parts one, two, and three), we now present the first installment in a two-part series introducing this year’s faculty:
Michael AugrosA five-year veteran of the High School Summer Program, Michael Augros is now serving in his first year as director. He is looking forward to “meeting the bright young men and women in my section, finding out what they think about important things, and working with (new tutor) David Grothoff for the first time.” A graduate of the College, Mr. Augros earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy at Boston College. Earlier this summer he published his first book, Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence. He and his wife, Amy, live in Santa Paula with their three children.
Marco Emerson Hernández Shortly after graduating from the College in 1997, Marco Emerson Hernández participated in the first-ever Summer Program as a junior member of the Admissions staff. Since then he has gone on to marry, become the father of three daughters, and earn a doctorate in theology at the University of Notre Dame. “The Summer Program has expanded and proven successful in giving students a taste of the College life, as well as introducing them to many of the outdoor and cultural opportunities of our part of Southern California,” he says. “I am excited to be a part of introducing the students to the great books and seminar method as a tutor.”
Phillip WodzinskiIn his 13 years as a member of the Thomas Aquinas College faculty, Phillip Wodzinski has taught in the Summer Program “six or seven times,” by his count. He enjoys the conversations about Euclid, Sophocles, and Plato (particularly the Euthyphro), as well as the outings to the Getty Center and the Hollywood Bowl. He is a graduate of Xavier University (Cincinnati), where he majored in philosophy, and he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science at Boston College. His advice to Summer Program attendees? “Focus on preparation for class and be sure to get enough sleep.” He and his wife, Melissa, live in Santa Paula with their two sons and two daughters.
David ApplebyDavid Appleby holds a Ph.D. in ancient and medieval history and taught at the United States Naval Academy before joining the College’s faculty 11 years ago. He has participated in the Summer Program for the past seven years and “most enjoys conversing with the high school students about great books that gradually become the common intellectual property of all who study them.” He and his wife, Marilyn, have a son, Peter, in high school, and a daughter, Zoe, who is a rising sophomore at the College and one of the prefects in this year’s program. When he is not reading or talking with students, Mr. Appleby enjoys fossil hunting and open water swimming.
Brian DragooThis year marks the eleventh Summer Program for Brian Dragoo, for whom the experience never gets old. “Even though it’s the same every year for us, this is often a life-changing moment for the students,” he says. “They are introduced to the possibility of the intellectual life, sometimes for the very first time, and for many students this is the first time they have ever heard that such a life is possible in today’s world. I love being part of that for them.” A graduate of the College who holds advanced degrees in engineering from the University of Arizona, Mr. Dragoo lives in Santa Paula with his wife, Amy, and their six daughters.
Patrick GardnerThe Summer Program was the “first taste” of Thomas Aquinas College for Patrick Gardner. Three years ago, prior to his first semester as a tutor at the College, he taught in the program. “Having not come to the College as a student, the Discussion Method was new to me,” he recalls. “Realizing its power — how much you can learn from your peers and from a work — was invigorating.” A graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Gardner earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute. He and his wife, Kate, are the parents of four young boys. “Have trust in the method,” he advises his summer students. “Trust the text and trust your peers.”
John Jost (’17)When he was in high school, John Jost (’17) strongly considered going to college on a swimming or baseball scholarship — until he attended the High School Summer Program. “It changed my life,” he says. “And it’s the greatest decision I have made thus far.” During the program, he discovered that “there was something bigger in life than sports,” and that he “actually liked reading.” He and his dad now lead a great books discussion group, modeled after the College’s classes, and he coaches 112 competitive swimmers in his home state of Illinois. A first-time prefect, he says, “I look forward to being on this program!”
Annalisa Tombelli (’16)This year’s program marks the fourth for Annalisa Tombelli (’16), who attended as a rising high school senior in 2011 and has served as a prefect for the last two years. “This is the most exciting year for me because I have had a full look at the program now, and I can see more than ever how great it is,” she says. “You’ll read some St. Thomas — that’s a real gift. It’s beyond imagining,” she continues. “The curriculum is so rich; it’s life for your soul. Read what the College has sent you, and be open to a new phase of your life — that of a beginning in wisdom as an adult.”
Jonathan Chavez (’16)A rising senior at the College and a second-year prefect, Jonathan Chavez (’16) has already read the various works in the Summer Program curriculum, but he is eager to read them again. Citing Mortimer Adler, he notes that “a true sign of a great book is you can read it as many times as you want and always get something out of it.” During his years at the College, he has volunteered his time to work with high school students at nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where, along with several other Thomas Aquinas College students, he teaches confirmation classes. Among the highlights of working on the Summer Program, he says, is getting to witness the students’ intellectual growth. “It’s awesome to watch their excitement,” he remarks. “It is really great to see.”
Matthew Plaisted (’18)A newcomer to the prefect crew, Matthew Plaisted (’18) was a student in the Summer Program when he was a rising high school senior in 2013. “I am very eager to attend this year’s program,” he says, remembering that time when the College, its classical curriculum, and its pedagogy were all still new to him — and perhaps even a little bit intimidating. Now having completed his Freshman Year at the College, he is glad to share the gifts of his education with others. “I’m looking forward to discussing the curriculum with all the new faces,” he says.
Emily McAtee (’16)Like many a Thomas Aquinas College student, Emily McAtee (’16) credits the High School Program with her decision to come to the College. “I attended the 2011 Summer Program and that experience is the reason I decided to go to TAC,” she says. A lover of sports, and now in her Senior Year, she serves as one of the College’s athletic directors during the academic year, organizing the various intramural sporting events that are so popular among TAC students. She is also an avid musician, backpacker, road tripper, beachgoer, and surfer.
Cecilia Goyette (’17)The daughter of two Thomas Aquinas College alumni, one a tutor at the College, Cecilia Goyette (’17) grew up within the TAC community. She thus brings a lifelong familiarity with the College, its academic program, and its community of faith to this, her second summer as a prefect. Entering her Junior Year, she is strongly considering a career in medicine and has spent most of the summer shadowing a doctor. She is ready, however, to put medicine on hold for the time being, and devote two weeks to the program. “I can’t wait to meet all the students,” she says. “I look forward to all the great discussions with them!”
Daniel Selmeczy (’08)Pardon the sunscreen in this photo of Daniel Selmeczy (’08), but it was taken in the midst of a summer “freediving” (no tanks) course that he is taking Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When not underwater, he is teaching an intensive Latin class this summer, and during the academic year he is a full-time teacher at St. Monica Academy in Pasadena, California. Famously, he is the dance instructor at the Summer Program, turning neophytes into skilled swing dancers in time for the end-of-the-program dance. “I am looking forward to seeing students fall in love with the program the way I did when I visited the school,” he says.
Maggie Conklin (’17)A rising junior from Mount Angel, Oregon, Maggie Conklin (’17) thinks she enjoys the Summer Program every bit as much as the high school students do. She served as prefect last year, an experience she describes as “incredible” and “unforgettable.” Her favorite part, she says, was getting “to connect on an individual basis with so many students.” The discussions inside the classrooms spilled into the residence hall, the dining commons, and the athletic field. “I was always so delighted when talking to the students, knowing that we made a bond of friendship. There was a joy in simply being together, and drinking in the beauty and the goodness around us.”
Last week we began a three-part series introducing the prefects for this year’s High School Summer Program. Below is part 2:
Andrew Rossi (’13)Returning for his third year is Andrew Rossi (’13). A graduate of the College, Andrew works at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, where he teaches logic, geometry, history, and chemistry. “My favorite part of the program,” he says, “is interacting with the students and listening to their first thoughts on the great books.” In past years he has overseen the High School Program’s athletic competitions, and this year, he says, he looks forward to “making a prefect team that will challenge any summer programmers to ultimate Frisbee.”
Zoe Appleby (’18)In her freshman year at the College, Zoe Appleby (’18) played Desdemona in the student production of Othello, worked in the campus bookstore, attended the West Coast Walk for Life, and participated in a Catholic literary conference. She also delighted in the College’s classical curriculum, citing The Iliad, Agamemnon, and Plato’s Republic and Symposium as her favorite works. This summer, she spent five days paddle boating down the Yampa and Green rivers from Colorado into Utah as well as volunteering at Santa Paula’s Art Museum and Animal Rescue Center. Of course, the best part of her summer is still yet to come — and begins on July 19.
Isabella Hsu (’18)Like many Thomas Aquinas College students, Isabella Hsu (’18) cites her experience on the Summer Program as her primary reason for coming to the College. Now returning to the program for the first time as a prefect, she is “excited to help give prospective students what the Summer Program gave me and to share my love and excitement for the program with them.” She is also looking forward to a new addition to this year’ curriculum — “The Enduring Chill,” by Flannery O’Connor. Bonus: Isabella has spent some time this summer working as a barista. “I will make a cappuccino for anyone who asks,” she promises.
Bridgette DeBates (’17)Not all of this year’s Summer Program prefects are past attendees. For Bridgette DeBates (’17), a junior from Chandler, Arizona, this year’s program will be her first. “I am very excited to be a part of the program,” she says. “I am looking forward to getting to know the high school students and sharing with them what I love about TAC.” Given her passion for basketball and volleyball — as well as guitar and piano — expect to see her on the athletic fields, and maybe even on a stage, sometime during the two weeks.
Emily Sanchez (’17)We may also hope for a performance from Emily Sanchez (’17), who has been playing the piano for 12 years and, more recently, giving lessons. A fourth-generation resident of San Diego, California, she is the oldest of nine children. “I am looking forward to spending time playing volleyball and getting to know this year’s high schoolers,” she says. She is also eager to share the blessings of the College’s rich liturgical life and “helping students navigate the Missal” during Mass in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.
Thomas Cain (’18)Another Summer Program newcomer is Thomas Cain (’18), of Santa Paula, California. Having served a counselor at various Boy Scout camps, he has much experience working with young people. He is also an avid cyclist and an accomplished triathlete who looks forward to the program’s various athletic contests as well as its excursions to Santa Barbara, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Getty Center. Nonetheless, he encourages the “programmers” to stay focused on what matters most. “Don’t get too caught up with the social stuff,” he advises. “And have fun with the studying, too!”
Matt Dugan (’18)Hailing from “Minnesota, the best state in the country,” is Matt Dugan (’18). A first-year prefect, Matt is a Summer Program veteran nonetheless, having attended as a rising high school junior in 2013. “It was my experience at the program that ultimately convinced me to come to TAC,” he recalls. “I love to read, and I love the curriculum here.” Describing himself as “very outgoing” and a “big people person,” Matt looks forward to making new friends and the various sporting events on the campus athletic fields.
Andrew Grimes (’14)A fellow Minnesotan, Andrew Grimes (’14) returns to the College having recently completed his first year of graduate studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where he is working toward a doctorate in philosophy. “I’m looking forward to learning and getting to know the students,” he says, “enjoying time together and helping them to discern their future.” He considers the chief blessings of his Thomas Aquinas education to be “friendship, virtue, confidence, patience and the tools that I acquired in searching for beauty, truth, and goodness.” His advice to the students? “Be assured that we’re here to help you.”
Following up on last week’s introductions of the 2015 High School Summer Program chaplains, we now present the first in a three-part series introducing this year’s prefects:
Sarah Dufresne (’14)The women’s head prefect for this year’s High School Summer Program is Sarah Dufresne (’14), who has served as a prefect on two previous programs and is currently the College’s resident assistant. A onetime volunteer for her high school’s campus ministry team and an occasional missionary with Justice for All’s pro-life campus outreach, Sarah sees being “radically available” as key to working well with young adults. In her roles as a Summer Program prefect and resident assistant, she has organized numerous student outings, including early-morning runs, a pancake breakfast, hikes, a women’s campout, and a trip to Ventura’s Grant Park Cross.
Chris Sebastian (’13)Returning for his sixth High School Summer Program as a prefect — and first as men’s head prefect — is Chris Sebastian (’13). A graduate of the College who attended the program as a high school student in 2008, Chris is the public relations and marketing coordinator for the Mother of Divine Grace distance-learning program. “I’m always gratified by the seriousness with which the students tackle the difficult subjects they discuss during the program, from questions of fate to the existence of God,” he says. “These students give us much hope for not only the future of Thomas Aquinas College, but also for the whole world.”
Anthony Maza (’15)A member of the College’s most recent graduating class, Anthony Maza (’15) attended the High School Summer Program in 2010 — a turning point in his life. Despite having already decided to attend college elsewhere, “after two weeks of thinking, I decided TAC would teach me best how to be truly wise,” he remembers. “The College utterly changed my life, and I made the best friends here.” Later this summer he will head off to Colorado to pursue graduate studies in theology at the Augustine Institute, but first he looks forward to “ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, and talking about the hard questions of life” during this year’s program.
Khyber White (’15)“The thing I enjoy most about the Summer Program,” observes Khyber White (’15), “is being able to introduce our college and the life of liberal education to a new generation of students.” A recent graduate and convert to the Catholic faith, Khyber has a passion for international affairs as well as playing medieval and Middle Eastern instruments, including the Turkish bağlama. (If we’re lucky, maybe he will play it for us on the program.) He has participated in numerous medical missions to Western Africa with his father, who is a doctor, and he will volunteer this fall as a tutor at a Catholic school in Jamaica.
Samantha Wiebersch (’16)A rising senior at the College, Samantha Wiebersch (’16) is returning for her second year as a prefect. “I am thrilled to come back!” she says. “Having the chance to meet so many incredible high school students and engage them in the academic, social, and spiritual life that I love so much is the opportunity of a lifetime.” She is spending the summer in her hometown of Delafield, Wisconsin, providing therapy for an autistic boy. Although she loves her job and the time with family, she cannot wait for the program to begin. “Sharing what you love with people you love — it doesn’t get much better than that.”
David Langley (’15)This summer will be the fourth that David Langley (’15) has served as a prefect on the High School Program. “I enjoy getting to know the young men and women,” he says. A member of this year’s graduating class, David spent last summer performing research in chemistry at MIT’s Jamison Laboratory. This summer he is busy studying for the Medical College Admission Test, after which he plans to apply to at least five medical schools. Thus the Summer Program will serve as something of a study break for him, although, like all prefects, he will be reading the great books along with the students.
Aileen McCarthy (’14)Fresh from a nearly nine-month missionary trip to Cordoba, Argentina, Aileen McCarthy (’14) is returning for her fifth High School Summer Program as a prefect. In Argentina she did various forms of service work, such as aiding terminally ill cancer patients, helping out at orphanages, and tutoring poor children. She is now working for a magazine in her hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, from which she will be taking a break to rejoin the Summer Program. The reason she gives for returning to the program every summer? “I love this opportunity to give back to the College.”
Clara Diodati (’17)When Clara Diodati (’17) attended the High School Program in 2012, she found the experience so powerful that she wrote a song about it. “I don’t know that I would be at TAC if it weren’t for the Summer Program,” she says. “So it means a lot to me, and I’m very excited to give back and meet all the programmers this year!” A rising junior from Ave Maria, Florida, she delights in the students’ “genuine enthusiasm” for the life of the College. “It reminds me not to take what I have for granted,” she says. “July 19 can’t come soon enough!”
We are pleased to announced the all-star lineup of chaplains for the 2015 High School Summer Program!
Rev. Nick Blaha (’02)Although joining the program for the first time, Rev. Nick Blaha (’02) is well accustomed to working with young people. A priest of the Diocese of Kansas City (Kansas), he runs the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University, a 6,000-student, public university some 100 miles southwest of Kansas City. After graduating from the College, he spent three years as a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary before entering the seminary. You can hear podcasts of his homilies via the Didde Center website.
Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P.Returning for his second consecutive program, Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P. is the College’s head chaplain. He, too, has extensive experience in campus ministry. After his ordination in 1984, his first two assignments were at Newman Centers on the campuses of the University of Arizona in Tucson and the University of Oregon in Eugene. He has also served a total of seven years (split over two terms, interrupted by an assignment in Alaska) as a chaplain at the College. An avid hiker, Fr. Paul enjoys sharing the trails and the natural beauty of the Los Padres National Forest above the campus.
Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94)Joining Fr. Nick and Fr. Paul is the Summer Program’s long-serving chaplain, Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), who has been ministering to attendees since 2007. Among Summer Program students, he is famous for his commanding presence on the volleyball court, his theology Q&As, and leading nightly consecration in the residence halls. For the other 50 weeks of the year, he is a professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. A graduate of the College, he is also a regular guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program.
Admissions staff assemble the packets.
Members of the Admissions Staff have spent the day busily assembling packets of great books for attendees of the 2015 High School Summer Program! The mailings, which went out via the U.S. Postal Service this afternoon, contain the first three readings of this year’s program — Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Plato’s Euthyphro, and Sophocles’ Antigone.
A note to rising high-school seniors: There are still a few openings for men in this year’s program. It’s not too late to apply. We promise we will get you the readings in plenty of time!
The packets await their trip to the Post Office.
In response to burgeoning demand, Thomas Aquinas College is increasing enrollment for the annual High School Summer Program — from 136 students in 2014 to 153 at this year’s program, which will take place from July 19 to August 1.
“We were pleasantly surprised at how many applications came in for the 2015 program, from across the U.S. and abroad, too,” says Director of Admissions Jon Daly. “Not wanting to turn anyone away, we decided to boost our enrollment.”
Despite the larger overall numbers, classes in the Summer Program will still be capped at 17 students. “We are bringing in another full-time member of the College’s teaching faculty to lead the classes,” says Mr. Daly. “That way our Summer Program students will continue to learn in the same manner as our undergraduate students — in a small classroom setting, sitting around a table, engaged in powerful conversations about the greatest works of Western civilization.”
Although the program is rapidly filling, there are still some spaces available for men and a waitlist for women. “Increasing our enrollment gives people who have been holding out one more chance to apply before it’s too late,” says Mr. Daly. “But they should move quickly.Time is running out!”
Today’s edition of the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Daily blog features an article about the College’s High School Great Books Program. “The summer program,” writes author Kathryn Zagrobelny “is designed to encourage students to pursue truth and wisdom and experience student life at Thomas Aquinas College.”
If you are a high school junior, and you would like to spend two weeks in Southern California this summer — reading great books, deepening your faith, considering important questions, making lifelong friends, and having lots of fun — then apply now for this year’s program!