A new Sputnik challenge for New Hampshire

St. Paul’s Advanced Studies Program can play a role in retaining, attracting bright young people

Sixty years ago, St. Paul’s School founded the Advanced Studies Program to provide rigorous college-level coursework during the summer for New Hampshire public and parochial high school students.

In the shadow of the Soviet Union’s successful Sputnik satellite, the nation felt it had a deficit of science, math and language education, and St. Paul’s, a nationally renowned private school in Concord, sought to remedy this. Early courses were heavy on math, science, and even Russian, befitting the Cold War backdrop. Students lived in dorms and utilized St. Paul’s first-class laboratories and playing fields.

Today, 265 students still cram a year’s worth of collegiate-level coursework into 5 1/2 weeks each summer. Courses now include subjects like entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, biomedical ethics, marine biology, engineering, law and government, sustenance and sustainability and mass media. The students, who are in their summer between junior and senior year, hail from Salem to Colebrook. 

Almost every Granite State high school is represented, and 44 percent of students receive financial aid to make the program accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

ASP students are recruited by Ivy League Schools, liberal arts colleges and the nation’s best state universities. Invariably, alums describe the ASP as a turning point in their lives, a preview of what it will mean to be with a community of learners and strivers, a prefiguring of advanced education. Lifetime friendships are forged. 

Six decades since Sputnik, New Hampshire faces a new challenge — not just the cultivation of talent, but the retention of it. That New Hampshire is the second grayest state in the nation — and silvering more by the second — should alarm every generation that calls this place home. In this anniversary year, the ASP board has launched an effort to partner with businesses and organizations to ensure that these bright students know they can find exceptional opportunities for their careers right here in New Hampshire when they complete their higher education.

For example, Dyn welcomed the data-driven class to its headquarters last summer and contributed to the need-based scholarship fund. Law firms McLane Middleton and Sheehan Phinney are each investing in a student’s full tuition this summer ($4,200), so they may attend Law and Government. We hope to approach other industries as well. 

For me, it is personal. Theresa Stone and Chubb Life Insurance made my own scholarship to the ASP possible 20 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten that extraordinary kindness that was an early step on the road to knowing the Granite State would always be my home. 

Over the decades and with 12,000 alumni, scores of New Hampshire’s doctors, teachers, scientists, writers and business leaders have attended, and you are bound to know several. Others have scattered to the four winds and have done well on the national stage. Late-night host Seth Meyers, hedge fund founder William Conway, law professor and activist Zephyr Teachout and NASA astronauts Rick Linnehan and Richard Searfoss come to mind.

But the impact on the Granite State of those who remained cannot be doubted. Three of Gov. Chris Sununu’s siblings attended, including former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu. Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley and Executive Councilor Chris Pappas are among current officeholders.

The program numbers leading judges among its alums, including the chief judge of our federal District Court, Joseph LaPlante, NH Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks and Probate Judge Christina O’Neill. Grant Bosse, the editorial page editor of the Union Leader and rival former state party Chairs Kathy Sullivan and Fergus Cullen also attended. Entrepreneurs like Gray Chynoweth and John Gargasz are also alums, as is Planned Parenthood’s Meaghan Gallagher. Prominent lawyers like Marty Van Oot, Jennifer Parent and Lucy Karl also attended. 

We want to hear from businesses and organizations about how we can best partner with you to get our young leaders thinking early about potential internships and ultimately careers here. We have a hunch that getting on these young people’s radar early could be key. A New Hampshire career day/internship fair, field trips and guest lectures are some ideas we are considering. We hope to hear from you on how we can help

Jay Surdukowski, an attorney at Sulloway & Hollis, is chair of the board of overseers of the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program.

Categories: Opinion