During the summer of 2017, after my sophomore year in high school (aka 10th grade), I travelled alone to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Why? To participate in a summer program that would not only teach me about some chosen subjects, but also help me develop independence and most of all, facilitate my love for learning and engage me fully in art.
The 7-week long program was called the Secondary School Program (SSP), hosted by Harvard University. I stayed in one of the freshmen dorms at Harvard during July and August, immersed in learning to live with many roommates and survive on my own, all while also taking on two full college credit courses. I will recount my academic growth at college level across one course and my artistic exploration in another course.
Summer at Harvard 2017 – Dorm-mates group photo
Advanced Academics: Introduction to Psychology
My first course was Introduction to Psychology. Many have asked why I took Psychology as a course, seeing as I do not take it as an IB course now. Though I might answer slightly differently each time, ultimately, it comes down to my personal interests. I’ve always loved the field of psychology, learning about human behavior: why we do what we do, how the mind functions to make thought and actions, and what happens when there are abnormalities in our brain? Coming into the course, I only had some background knowledge in this field. I had previously completed a MYP Personal Project about mental illnesses, but focussed on the stigma and discrimination against specific disorders rather than delving into why they exist and how they impact the individual. I thought the introductory course would be a perfect opportunity to learn about several aspects of psychology and challenge to me truly understand the human mind through study.
All courses were open to high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students, so very high standards were expected of even us sophomores. We were assigned readings every week and had long 3-hour lectures twice a week. Due to the large class, the professor was not strict on attendance or the readings, but believed that we would only struggle were we to skip lectures or skip readings. We only had two large assessments: a midterm and a final.
Before midterm – lecture notes
From the beginning of the program to the midterm, I found myself loving the independence of the program, enjoying the social life it provided me to meet so many new people and freedom to explore my interests in my own time. However, I found myself beginning to slip up on my academic standards that I had so often prided myself upon. I had been rather disorganized, falling behind on the readings and losing focus in lectures which led to messy, incoherent notes. When I took the midterm, I was rather reckless, moving through each question quickly, and despite rechecking my work, I was unable to discern between topics I was confident with and topics I needed to rethink. This gave me multiple careless mistakes, and in the end, I received a B. Because the grades were curved between both the SSP students and the college students, I knew that it was not a bad score. However, I was still disappointed with myself due to the low percentage score and because I knew that my own standards were much higher.
After midterm – lecture notes
Now, after my midterm, I began to notice and change several aspects of my studying and concentration habits. During lectures, I focussed on taking detailed and structured notes, picking out only essential words to write down, and paid attention to both the information communicated verbally and on the presentation the professor created. This increased efficiency and effectivity allowed me to later move between the assigned reading and my lecture notes to find similarities, therefore reinforcing what I had learnt in the lecture. I often found myself adding more details to my lecture notes to make sure I understand the topic completely. In order to prioritize my success, I also found myself sitting by myself in lectures, away from my roommates and friends who also took the course. This allowed me to concentrate much better. Furthermore, I began to ask my professor questions. There’s no doubt that information is always available online or in texts, but one of the greatest resources I had at Harvard University were the professors. Through asking more questions, I found answers to my questions from a professor who gave his own input and perspective, allowing me to understand this subject from a highly academic and insightful perspective.
Another skill I improved was reading. Reading seems easy in appearance, but I realized that I was reading the textbook word-for-word and was highlighting all of the vocabulary words that the textbook indicated, which didn’t necessarily mean that I was understanding or encoding each word into my memory. Instead, I found myself even skimming through the chapters, but thoroughly reading the important sections. I separated the useless information and the useful by whether it explained any process, vocabulary, or anything of the like. I was able to truly understand most of the vocabulary this way.
During my final, I was much more confident. I went through each question slowly, but definitely more surely, reading and rereading each question carefully to fully understand the question. I left the lecture room feeling relieved but also happy that I had done my best. In the end, I received a fairly high percentage score, and earned myself a A- in a college credit course.
The 7 weeks of this program were needless-to-say, challenging. Have I risen to the challenge? Yes, I believe so. My motivation throughout this program, and maybe for all academics, has been that if anyone can do it, why not have it be me? In this mindset, I give myself the pressure and high expectations I need to encourage myself to succeed. Despite some sacrifices, I have, in my perspective, completed a very intellectual, engaging, and enriching summer, which has left me with a even greater thirst for knowledge and learning. I have challenged myself academically in this college-level course and attained great results. More than this, I feel that this program has better prepared me for college in the future, having learnt time management and experiencing college-level academics. As a student, I feel excited to find myself as a college student in the future and can’t wait to take more challenging but amazing courses!
Artistic Expression: Graphic Storytelling
Graphic Storytelling – class photo
(2) My second course allowed me to explore a new medium as an artist; it was called “Graphic Storytelling: Comic Book Art and Narrative”. To summarize the lengthy course name, it was a course about the function, power, and impact of graphic novels and comics, often known as “sequential art” (dubbed by Will Eisner). Again, people seem to always ponder why I took this course, as I do not take IB Art either. Graphic novels and comics have always been a personal love of mine, borne when my bookworm self scoured the library in search of a new book to read and discovered the magical shelf that held the graphic novels I would come to read and love. This course wasn’t exactly a history lesson or a just a lecture about the theory though. From the first day, we began drawing whilst learning the theory. The purpose of the course was both to understand the theory as well as how to make a comic.
06/20 – First digital drawing
Over the 7 weeks, I was taught techniques of drawing digitally by my professor, which I then tried to practice and incorporate into my own work. One change I remember most significantly was my drawing style and artistic habits and processes. Upon entering the course, I was a very new digital artist; I had only completed one digital drawing since buying a drawing tablet a couple of months prior to arriving at Harvard (see photo: 06/20). I was much more comfortable drawing on paper (see photo: 6/27).
06/27 – 1st comic (pencil) – click to read!
Yet, I strived to improve and develop this new skill. Slowly, as I grew more comfortable with my tablet, I began to draw by pencil on a piece of paper, scan it, and then color it digitally (see photo: 07/04). I fell in love with this as I saw my original black and white drawings turn into a gorgeous page full of vibrant colors.
07/04 – Early short comics (pencil + digital coloring) – click to read!
Around halfway through the course, I wanted to now have those expressive lines I often saw in comics. To do this, I sketched out draft pages on paper, scanned them, and then inked them on Photoshop. In this process, I lost the rigid pencil lines and instead found myself becoming more flexible. I began to improvise, adding small details like hatching and motion lines (see photo: 07/18).
07/18 – Early short comics (digital inking and coloring) – click to read!
For my final project, I created a 8-page comic, by far the longest comic, or even art piece, I had ever made. It was a long and hard process. First, I zero-drafted all my pages (zero-draft means to quickly sketch out all the pages, similar to a quick first draft in writing). Next came several redrafts, moving around panels, tweaking the text, and thinking about the color composition. Finally, I inked it on Photoshop, and colored it! Though a slow process, I felt like a real graphic novel author moving through each stage of making my comic. I was extremely proud of my final comic, which i believe turned out pretty cool! Here’s a link to my comic.
08/02 – Sample pages from final comic – click to full comic!
In the end, I was able to achieve an A in Graphic Storytelling, earning 4 college credits. This course has been unlike any other, however cliché it may sound. Building upon my love for art, especially drawing, I was able to explore another form of art that is quickly taking root in today’s extremely technological times: digital media. I always found digital media fascinating, with its vivid colors and expressive lines (not to say there aren’t any in traditional media), and I had the chance to explore it in depth over the summer, allowing me be an artist refining her skills whilst also learning a new one.
It also taught me about dedication to art. I had taken art class in 9th and 10th grade and painted somewhat irregularly in my own time. I was always jumping from medium to medium, from watercolor to oil colors to charcoal to pencil. In those 7 weeks, I was dedicated to just one medium. At times, this was tough! I grew frustrated when some lines weren’t turning out the way they were suppose to and wanted to find some watercolors instead. Yet, I committed myself to improving this skill, and I have clearly seen improvement since the beginning of that summer. This has shown me how perseverance is so important in art; all the greatest artists in the past and present were never born magically amazing at art, instead they’ve achieved it through hard work and devotion to improve. Knowing this, I will also commit myself to grow as an artist gradually, knowing that each drawing brings me closer to becoming the artist I want to be.
03/23 (2018) – Recent character drawing
Since the end of summer, I still draw digitally regularly to this day, slowly improving my digital media skills, and it has quickly become one of my favorite art mediums. I’ve grown comfortable enough to now sketch, ink, and color all on Photoshop, a process I used to be scared of, but now am comfortable with and continue to develop in each drawing. I follow many digital artists on social media as well as tutorial sites, which I use as resources to help me improve. I’ve completed studies of admired artists’ works, focussing on things like color composition or brush techniques. Art has always been a big part of my personal life, allowing me to lose myself in choosing each bright or dark color, picking between two different brushes, and drafting and redrafting multiple sketches. As for my future plans as an artist, I hope to take more art courses in college, which may build upon these digital media skills or let me discover a brand new media.