Donate to SAIL, UO’s Summer Academy to Inspire Learning

How to give: click here to go to the UO Foundation donor page for SAIL, you know the rest of the drill. There’s a one page info sheet here. (OK, actually it’s two pages.)

Some SAIL history and future, and how to volunteer:

UO’s Summer Academy to Inspire Learning was started in 2006 by two economics professors. Our goal was to increase the number of low income and first generation students going to college. We began with a summer camp with 13 students whom we’d recruited from local middle schools by promising them a $50 gift card if they stayed for a whole week of economics classes and some talks from UO admissions and financial aid staff about how to get into college and how to pay for it.

We got our colleagues to volunteer to help by telling them “surely there must be something interesting enough about your research to keep HS students engaged for 45 minutes?” The results were surprisingly good – who would have guessed that a professor from England could teach game theory and backwards induction with examples from NASCAR racing? The next year Helen Neville from psychology and her grad students Eric and Scott set up “SAIL Brain Camp”, enticing our students to come back next summer by bringing in a bucket of brains for them to poke around in. Raghu from Physics and Andy from Human Physiology then took those students the following summer, and then Journalism took them for their last year as entering HS seniors, to work on college application essays. Every year we started with a new group of entering HS students in economics – but now we have too many students, so they get a choice of what to take. Last year we had about 15 different camps, 500 students, and 100 or so faculty and staff volunteers.

Part of our original pitch was “see, college does pay off – you just got $50!” But I think the part that has worked has been just showing these students – many of whom have no family member who has gone to college – what college is about. By the time they finish a few camps they certainly aren’t intimidated by the idea of college, or by professors! And of course the volunteers learn a lot about how difficult life can be for low-income people in America, living just a few miles from our campus.

The UO president at the time we started SAIL was not enthusiastic, and for the first few years we ended up in un-airconditioned classrooms in places like the attic of Gerlinger. Sweaty. President Lariviere liked it though, and we started to get some university funding. We hired Lara, the SAIL Director, then with her help we got a big donation from a very generous family, and she recruited more and more faculty volunteers and new camps.

Last year, with support from President Schill, we were able to start weeklong overnight camps for students from around the state. This year of course the pandemic meant no in-person camps. (And no after-SAIL party at McMorran House, bummer!) I thought this would be a disaster, but Lara and her staff quickly pivoted to remote. Full disclosure: my supply and demand experiment on zoom was a humiliating disaster, but it seems everything else went pretty well.

SAIL now has an increasingly well developed system where HS teachers all over the state can sign up to have faculty give guest lectures, or schedule some UO undergraduate mentors to lead their class in discussions about college. Website here. We plan (hope?) to be back in person this summer, but regardless we can now give low income and underserved HS students around the state a little more info on college – direct from UO’s faculty and undergrads.

If you’re interested in organizing a camp for your department or volunteering in some other way, you can reach the SAIL Director Lara F at laraf at She and her staff do all the organizing, and you can focus on the students.

Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Donate to SAIL, UO’s Summer Academy to Inspire Learning

  1. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Glad if it’s really broad low income and first gen, casting the net wider than the usual “diversity” efforts, though including those groups too. Sounds like it could even have the makings of a new political party!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.