Program


The Palma Scholar experience is distinguished in a number of ways from the already-rich experience enjoyed by all Catlin Gabel students. This includes:

The Seminar

In addition to Catlin Gabel's highly regarded coursework, Palma Scholars are automatically enrolled in Palma Seminars for each of their first three years in the Upper School. The seminar aims to prepare leaders for the 21st century with an interdisciplinary curriculum that promotes problem-solving, dialogue, and real-world engagement, while integrating knowledge and resources from a breadth of faculty, community members, and national experts. The topic for 2017-18 is:

Divided States of America: As the 2016 election laid bare, ours is a divided nation, with many kinds of rifts cutting through the fabric of the country. Our state, as well, is marked by a notable split between Portland/Salem and Oregon’s more rural counties. Why do these divisions exist and can they be repaired? This year-long course is organized into two linked semesters. In the first semester, we examine contemporary regional tensions in America, paying particular attention to urban/rural (likely including Oregon and Appalachia) and urban/suburban (Chicago) rifts. In the second semester, we zoom out to a broader consideration of the increasingly contentious nature of “truth” in 21st century America and the roots and implications of this phenomenon. This interdisciplinary course will draw upon sociology, economics, environmental policy, history, memoir, psychology, and literary fiction, and will count for one half-History and one half-English credit.

Past Palma Seminar titles have included Crime & Punishment (focused on criminal justice in America), Revolutionaries (an activism-oriented course that built toward student-led social initiatives), Sports & Human Rights (a survey of the many ways that sports engages with matters of great social importance, with special emphasis on the Olympics and World Cup), and Measuring Success (with topics ranging from education to business to sports analytics). Learn more about how the Palma seminars promote authentic experiential learning in The Caller article The Community As Classroom.

The Capstone

In their senior year, Palma Scholars have the opportunity to pursue a year-long project of their choice as one of their courses, under the guidance of the Palma Scholars Program director. The students enjoy great latitude in the nature of that project, with options ranging from intense academic research to community-oriented initiatives to hands-on endeavors. Past Palma Scholars have pursued Capstone projects that saw them interning with a state congresswoman, learning jazz piano, developing a podcast, and building a sailboat.

No Graduation Requirements

Aside from the Palma Seminar and Capstone, Palma Scholars have no graduation requirements at Catlin Gabel. This affords them the opportunity to customize their course load, pursuing a set of classes that aligns with their personal goals and cultivates their intellectual passions. While college admission requirements and course-specific pre-requisites still have a part to play in the decision-making process, this grants Palma Scholars more control over their educational journey.

Summer Retreats

Early each summer, the Palma Scholars cohort participates in a 4-to-7-day program retreat, focused on a project or initiative that relates to that year’s Palma Seminar work. The retreat is an opportunity for authentic hands-on learning, while also gifting the students and program director with quality time together. In June 2017, the cohort traveled to Unity, Oregon to experience life in Eastern Oregon, living and working on a ranch. Previously, the group spent a week in Vancouver BC to examine firsthand the impact of the 2012 Winter Olympics.

Leadership Development

The centerpiece of the leadership development programming for Palma Scholars is a customized diagnostic tool that breaks “leadership” down into component skills that can be identified, studied, and practiced. Built around Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work on emotional intelligence, this provides Palma Scholars with a rich and nuanced profile of their leadership skills while also establishing priorities for instructional coaching by the director, which occurs in both monthly one-on-one meetings and weekly cohort meetings.

Palma Scholars are also members of the school’s Leadership Council. Run by the Athletic Director, the Leadership Council focuses on the specific application of leadership within the realm of sports, helping to equip the school’s teams’ captains and Palma Scholars with the tools needed to excel in this setting. In addition, the Palma Scholars organize a monthly Leadership Speakers Series, in which community leaders from a wide variety of different fields share advice and insights with the cohort.

Community Engagement

Given that Service represents one of the program’s four pillars, Palma Scholars are expected to make a meaningful commitment to a project (or projects) of their choosing. In addition, the program has taken on a leading role in the coordination and facilitation of the Upper School’s Community Engagement program. Each year, the Palma Scholars help to identify meaningful opportunities for student engagement in Portland, promote student-led initiatives at the school, and spotlight significant accomplishments from their peers.