Crimson Summer Academy students.

Celebrants at the Crimson Summer Academy event at the Harvard Faculty Club.

Photos by Scott Eisen

Campus & Community

Harvard’s Crimson Summer Academy marks a 20-year milestone

5 min read

Alums share key moments as current students reiterate the life-changing experiences the program offers

Bringing together more than 200 current students, alumni, and staff, the Crimson Summer Academy commemorated its 20th anniversary at the Harvard Faculty Club earlier this month.

The academy takes cohorts of 30 to 40 students, known as Crimson Scholars, from public schools in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Over the course of three consecutive summers, the students engage in a mix of classes, projects, and cultural activities. Through small-group instruction, sustained support, and close mentoring relationships with College undergraduates, the CSA encourages high school students to expand their vision of what’s possible, helping prepare them for admission to four-year colleges and universities.

During its 20-year history, the CSA has graduated more than 400 Crimson Scholars who have gone on to college or university, with more than 90 percent earning degrees.

“CSA is a really important grounding place for our community,” said Division of Continuing Education Dean Nancy Coleman, explaining the CSA’s close connection with Harvard Summer School, which falls under DCE’s purview.

The ability to provide a college experience on campus to students eager to learn and grow intellectually, along with building a strong sense of belonging, is one of the key pillars in the DCE’s mission, Coleman explained. “In this sense, we are building an educational community and one that extends the extensive resources of Harvard to students who hail from different places, spaces, and experiences. In my opinion, that diversity is what makes this community so special.”

CSA alums Joseph Lewis, CSA associate director, and Massachusetts Rep. Chynah Tyler.

Joseph Lewis and Chynah Tyler.

CSA Director Kim Parker highlighted how 20 years of hard work, determination, and commitment created a kinship among those in attendance that continues far beyond their graduation from the academy.

She said that bringing together past and present scholars gave both groups the opportunity to share their experiences and develop meaningful connections.

“There are many stories in this room. Let’s tell them to remember why we love CSA so much,” Parker said.

Current CSA students Gabriel Ugoji and Christian Le, who have completed their second summer with the program, credit the CSA with giving them insight into what college could offer them.

“These past few weeks have been, like, amazing. I really love the community,” Le said. “Even though it’s an academic program, there’s also a bit of having fun too. It’s been a really good experience for me, and I can’t wait for the third summer.”

Ugoji said that what he has learned, combined with study skills he acquired over the summer, will be applied to his upcoming year in high school. He said he plans to “hit the books hard” so that he is in an even better position for the CSA next year.

One of the night’s special guests was CSA Class of 2007 alumna and current Massachusetts Rep. Chynah Tyler. Tyler represents the 7th Suffolk District and hails from the same neighborhoods that are home to many of the CSA’s students. She reminisced with the crowd about her journey through the CSA and how it was a life-changing experience for her. Tyler encouraged current students to take advantage of all the opportunities offered at the CSA, whether it’s participating in extracurricular activities or immersing themselves in study.

She advised the younger generation to “always make sure that you work really hard and put your best foot forward. The things that you love to do will carry you to be who you will be in 20 years from now, like me,” she said.

Tyler presented the CSA with a citation from the state legislature congratulating it “on its 20 years of having a positive impact in the lives of students across Massachusetts.”

“When we commit to joining this program, we’re stepping into a community of individuals and leaving with a family,” said Joseph Lewis, CSA associate director and 2009 alumnus.

Lewis went on to share how the CSA transformed his life, recounting his first meeting with then-CSA director Maxine Rodburg. Lewis recalled that although a stranger at the time, Rodburg “… would later become one of the most impactful people in my life. In 20 minutes, Maxine asked me a series of questions that unlocked parts of my journey I had never before shared, putting the complex puzzles of my life together. Little did I know how life-changing those 20 minutes would be.”

Kwame Adams, CSA ’10 with Maxine Rodburg.
Kwame Adams, CSA ’10, with Maxine Rodburg, the former director of Crimson Summer Academy.

Rodburg, who retired from the program in 2021, said that when she left it was during the height of the COVID pandemic and therefore missed the chance to say goodbye in person. However, it was clear during the night that many had not forgotten Rodburg, nor her impact on their lives. Many credit her with molding the CSA into the program it is today. As its first director, Rodburg made a conscious effort to create more outreach to the surrounding cities and invite students who could do the work to take a chance and join the CSA.

After an emotional and rousing ovation, Rodburg said, “It’s breathtaking. It’s everything Harvard is and can be. It’s Harvard at its best.

“I’ve been proud to be a part of it. It wouldn’t have happened without Harvard support all these years. And these are the greatest kids in the world. It’s moving, very powerful. My heart is very full,” she said.