Article published Oct 18, 2007
Fosters Daily Democrat
DURHAM — For the past 24 years, Project SEARCH has served as a conduit for high school students eager to experience the intellectual stimulation of a college-level course.
Almost 170 students filed into a lecture hall in the Memorial Union Building University of New Hampshire last week to hear a Project SEARCH talk called, "What Will Happen if We Leave Iraq?"
Twelve high schools from southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine participate in the program, which has evolved into a popular extracurricular seminar series among juniors and seniors.
"I've been in the program since the beginning. It's about getting students used to the college experience. It has been very successful," said Jim Fabiano, director of the program and science department chair at Newmarket High School.
Ongoing since 1983, the seminar series was created to expose academically motivated students to a wealth of topics from art to religion to current events.
Fabiano said school enrollment numbers range from five to 25 students, based on school size and individual school district budgets.
Project SEARCH has six seminars each semester. The topics range from controversial and often alternative perspectives, such as: "Making a Difference by Being Different," What is the Definition of God?" or "How Should We Reform Marijuana Laws?"
Alynna Johnson, an assistant professor in the UNH political science department, presented Wednesday's lecture.
Students listened intently as she described several different scenarios of exit strategies for Iraq.
Johnson presented a nonpartisan overview of the political temperament of the Middle East countries surrounding Iraq, the amount of money the United States has spent on Iraq, and what could happen if the United States withdrew its armed forces.
The students asked her questions about why the United States is using a military strategy for a political situation, and what role the Iraqi government is currently playing.
Johnson said her lecture for Project SEARCH was similar to one she might give to college underclassmen.
"The points I'm making are less foreign policy based and more geared toward discussion," Johnson said.
After the lecture, UNH graduate students facilitated discussions among groups of students.
The students discussed Johnson's lecture focusing on the Biden-Gelb Plan of dividing Iraq into separate countries for the three Muslim sects, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiite and an alternate plan of keeping Iraq intact.
Spaulding High School senior Megan Good considered the fighting Muslim factions and how plausible it would be to create a unified Iraq.
"What is the incentive for them to come together?" she asked.
The students mulled over what the people of Iraq would need to form a viable democracy.
Minta Carlson of Newmarket Junior Senior High School said that the basic needs of Iraqis would need to be met before any policy could be in place.
The students also discussed post-conflict zones, and Paul Johnson of Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine asked, "How much would it cost if we just pulled out?"
"We can't do that to them," Carlson said.
"That's what we did in Darfur," Johnson responded.
"I know, and that was awful," Carlson said.
Good said there are very few current events classes held in her high school.
"Throughout the day we barely get a chance to talk about what's going on in the news," she said.
Several students agreed they felt the lecture was beneficial because they felt current events classes were not readily available electives and history classes barely touched on the issues now facing the nation.
"It was informative. She gave us the facts," Good said of the lecture.
Fabiano said to enroll in the seminar series, each school has a slightly different procedure, but usually students have to write an essay stating why they think Project SEARCH would be beneficial to them.
SEARCH also includes a ropes course day at the beginning of the academic year and a spring semester field trip to Boston. The ropes course day is designed to develop cooperation, communication, and problem-solving skills, laying the foundation for the discussion group environment. During the field trip, students experience an afternoon at historic Faneuil Hall and a theatrical production.
Project SEARCH students are also eligible to take courses at the UNH-Durham campus through the Challenging Academically Talented Students (CATS) program. Upon successful completion of the course, the program reimburses the cost of tuition.
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