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Gateway program supports Atlanta students traditionally underrepresented in the study of the ancient world
Students in front of presentation screen

Atlanta-area high school students (L-R) Arshia Larestani, Deva Hinton-Lawson, Rachel Taylor and Ava Reese spent two weeks on Emory’s campus this summer, studying connections between the ancient Mediterranean world and our lives today.

The Department of Classics in Emory College of Arts and Science launched a program this summer to showcase the study of the ancient Mediterranean world and also to foster the educational aspirations of underrepresented students.

The Classics Gateway Initiative brought four talented high schoolers from Atlanta-area schools for two weeks of study through Emory Pre-College.

In addition to living on campus, the cohort enrolled in a noncredit course on Pompeii that concluded with students applying their coursework and independent research to reenact how people responded to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

At Emory, classics is the study of the ancient Mediterranean, including the languages, literature and culture of ancient Greece and Rome along with art history and some sciences.

“I think learning about how life was back then can teach you so much about life today,” says Rachel Taylor, a rising junior at Atlanta's Midtown High School. “Our worlds are so similar.”

The Classics Gateway program emphasizes that relevance by pairing Emory’s leadership on issues of race and ethnicity with the long tradition of Latin courses in Atlanta-area schools. 

As a retired Latin teacher, alumna Lynne McClendon brings those worlds together. She donated the funds to bring two students to campus every summer for the next five years, a generous gift that turned the long-contemplated idea into reality.

More than 30 students from partner public high schools applied for the inaugural cohort. The classics department secured funding for two additional students this summer, making the field and program even more accessible.

“I don’t necessarily think students need to major in the classics, but I do hope that having more exposure gives them new insight into thinking about all sorts of things,” says McClendon, who taught at North Springs High School before retiring to Virginia. “We want them to be lifelong learners.”

Arshia Larestani, a rising junior at Midtown High School, had to learn English after his family emigrated from Iran when he was seven. 

Not only did he find Latin easier to learn when he began studying it in eighth grade, classics also piqued his interest in ancient engineering techniques, such as the wind-cooled houses of ancient Persia and the Roman Empire’s use of cranes in erecting large bridges.

He now plans to major in aerospace and astronomical engineering in college.

“Knowing the classics shows you the thought process that was used behind some incredible feats,” Larestani says. “They had more knowledge than you would think.”

That kind of takeaway highlights how studying the humanities in general and classics in particular can be relevant in any career, says Emily Master, a senior lecturer in the classics who heads up the Gateway initiative.

Taylor, for instance, is considering pursuing a career in health care, where many terms are derived from Latin. But she also is considering further study in the field just because she enjoys the personal stories.

“These students already have a connection to the deeply human process of reaching across time and space, in a profound and challenging way,” says Sandra Blakely, the chair and associate professor of the classics department. “There is a terrific amount of good the Classics Gateway program can do, for Emory and for these spectacular students.”

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