Head start, hard work pay off in Ivy League bid

Imagine being able to write your own academic ticket to an Ivy League school of your choice.

That’s just what Emily Kress was able to do.

Thanks to Western’s Initiative for Scholarly Excellence, the 21-year-old got a head start to her post-secondary studies, taking a first-year philosophy class here while still enrolled in a London area high school. Four short years later, Kress has bypassed an MA program and, having the option to go to more than a handful of Ivy League schools, is on her way to Yale University this fall to pursue a PhD in philosophy.

Though she’s modestly hesitant to talk about it, Kress’ scholastic skill early on, paired with her desire for a challenge, laid the groundwork for a successful academic career.

“In high school, I took philosophy (at Western) thinking ‘Oh, this sounds really hard. I had better get it out of the way before university.’ It sounded really interesting and if I failed, it wouldn’t be part of my degree,” she said of her initial motivation to take the Introduction to Philosophy class.

“But I didn’t fail it. I did really well and I loved it,” Kress added, noting the experience opened doors by giving her the opportunity to learn new perspectives and ways of approaching questions.

The course is also partly why, upon graduating high school, Kress chose Western for her post-secondary studies.

“I was exposed to a lot of different things at Western. We have some great academic programs and I’d probably go so far as to say that we have the best undergraduate philosophy program in the country. I had no idea about that at the time (of high school),” she said. “It’s also a very warm and friendly and welcoming university. So, we’ve got both sides of it. I felt like I would fit in here and be happy.”

In fall 2008, Kress started her full-time studies at Western as a Scholar’s Electives student, working with a faculty mentor and pursuing a research project of her choice each year, on top of a regular academic workload.

She credits the Scholar’s Electives program for building her confidence and helping her succeed.

“The biggest benefits in Scholar’s come in the first two years. In your first year, you’d never get that one-on-one time with a professor. I was very shy and I think it built my confidence, talking to professors in that office hour environment I might not have sought out otherwise. I gained a lot of skills that became useful in my other first-year courses,” Kress explained.

“And I just learned so much from talking with (my faculty mentor). I would read a book or an article and go in and he would ask me what I thought about it. I would have to make arguments and defend myself. That opportunity to engage with texts on a higher level one-on-one is one I don’t think you’d get in other first-year programs.”

But it’s not just her experience with Scholar’s Electives that’s left her well prepared for studies at Yale, she added.

“We have an awesome Philosophy department here and we’ve had so much mentorship and professors who were extremely dedicated,” Kress said, adding both the department, and its faculty – particularly in the history of philosophy – could use more credit.

“The Philosophy department here is getting so much press these days for the Philosophy of Science and The Rotman Institute. I think our History of Philosophy program is incredible and our professors – many of them are young – are producing incredible work and doing well in the classroom,” she explained.

And that’s just what Kress wants to do when she’s done at Yale.

“I want to get a tenure track position and write about Aristotle,” she said.

Kress is one of two Scholar’s Electives students graduating this year and going straight into a PhD program at an Ivy League school of choice. Joining her at Yale is Matt Leisinger who will also be studying philosophy.