A quick chat with award-winning educational consultant Melinda Giampietro.

You’re bringing your award-winning company, Options Solutions Educational Consultants, to Nantucket. How will the island be a strategic base for your operations?

Like many others, the pandemic has changed the way I live and work. Before COVID, I traveled between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Nantucket every six to eight weeks, but for the last ten months, Nantucket has been my home base. Being here more consistently has allowed me to open a physical space, have dimensional discussions about the educational needs on-island and find nonprofit partners to contribute to the community in a meaningful way.

Education has been put through the ringer by the pandemic. What’s one new development that students preparing to apply for college should bear in mind?

I’m going to put a different spin on this, beyond the pandemic. The United States has also been through a period of racial and societal awareness in the last year. At competitive colleges, there was a significant increase of acceptances of first-generation and traditionally underrepresented populations. Colleges are places that celebrate diversity. All students preparing to apply need to demonstrate that they can get along with a wide range of other students and that, through their activities, they have meaningful experiences with diversity.

How do you think the pandemic will change the college experience?

The answer will be determined by the size and values of the institution. Big publics may stick with asynchronous lectures because they are cheaper yet serve many learning styles. Small liberal arts schools will recommit to interactive, small classrooms. One thing that the pandemic has highlighted across all campuses is the need for mental health support. Not all college kids have weathered this storm the same way. They need to be mentally and physically healthy in order to do well academically on campus. There are a lot of conversations occurring at institutions across the country about what this support needs to look like to transition students to post-COVID life.

If you had a magic wand and could change anything about the educational system, what would it be?

We all instinctually follow our natural curiosities. I would integrate more self-directed learning and projects at all levels and in all academic subjects. When students get to follow their own interests to learn, they are more committed and willing to go deeper to understand something. While I agree there are basics in which we all need to be “educated,” in many instances, students would gain better skills, faster, by being allowed to direct their own curriculum.

What is your opinion of students taking a gap year before applying to college?

I’m pro gap year, but with goals. It is rare to have the gift of time, so I encourage students to use it as an opportunity to do something productive. Whether it is skiing a hundred days in a season, learning a trade or becoming fluent in a new language, taking a year to discover something new is positive and an opportunity for growth and maturity. We do, though, encourage students to apply their senior year and then potentially defer their admission. This way they don’t have to worry about the application process on their gap year!

If you were going to teach a class about Nantucket history, which chapter would you want to spend the most time on?

I am fascinated by the number of women entrepreneurs on Nantucket and how the island celebrates this as a unique part of its history. I would spend time on how this historically occurred with the women taking over the businesses while the men were on the whaling ships. This demonstrates that women are capable of thriving, contributing to their community, creating a support network and leaving a lasting impact on history when given an opportunity.

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