Quest for the Best

How to help academically distinguished, but economically and socially disadvantaged, high-school students succeed in college and later in life?...

How to help academically distinguished, but economically and socially disadvantaged, high-school students succeed in college and later in life? One model, proven over the past six years, involves intensive enrichment before they complete high school—bringing them to a campus during the summer, free of charge, for five weeks of academic work, leadership training, and counseling on college admissions and financial aid. The Quest Scholars Program, a privately funded nonprofit organization pioneered at Stanford, has done that on the West Coast. Now the program has expanded east to Harvard.

Operating from an office at Phillips Brooks House, this second chapter of Quest has mailed information packets and a dauntingly detailed application to thousands of schools and students in the northeastern United States. The goal, says director Dana A. Gavrieli, herself a 1995 Quest alumna, is to attract 1,000 applicants, from whom 22 will be selected to come to Cambridge this summer. “They are certainly capable,” she says, “but as a result of their background, neighborhood, or family circumstances, they just don’t know it.” She talks about raising such students’ sights, so they don’t think “being ambitious is going to community college.” Judging from the initial program at Stanford, the results are promising: every prior Quest Scholar has been admitted to a top-tier college or university.

In Cambridge, the first Harvard Quest scholars will live in one of the Houses along with 14 undergraduate mentors. Their academic curriculum will focus on environmental studies. And they will learn about everything from creating a public-service program to deploy in their home neighborhoods to how to take the SATs and apply for financial aid. Guest lecturers will include Pellegrino University Research Professor Edward O. Wilson and President Neil L. Rudenstine, and Gavrieli is recruiting other members of the Harvard community to serve as mentors and teachers for the first participants. (For more information, link to the Quest website,


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