UMBC summer program gives high school students a 'supreme' experience

Shaun Cunningham, a rising senior at Catonsville High School, said he might be interested in pursuing a career in law.

That’s why the Catonsville resident is in a moot court class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Cunningham is one of 11 students in the class.

A moot court is similar to a mock trial, but on a different level. In a mock trial, participants present evidence and make a case, trying to convince a judge or jury to see their point of view.

In a moot court, the trial has already happened, and participants are arguing the legal validity of a case — the moot court is the appellate court version of a mock trial.

Cunningham said he had never spent time researching a fictitious case or studying existing legal precedent and crafting an abstract argument that explains his interpretation of the law.

The student said it was “really cool to see how it all works,” behind the scenes of a legal appeal.

The course is part of UMBC’s Summer Enrichment Experience (SEE), which offers more than a dozen courses in as many subject areas. Courses run for a week and cost between $375 and $725.

UMBC has been offering SEE programs since 2015, according to Carol Bateman, the program’s coordinator for the school.

“We love introducing young students to campus and showing them some of the opportunities and programs that UMBC has to offer,” Bateman said in an email. “All of the students who participate in SEE programs take a campus tour as part of the experience.”

The different programs are meant to be “rigorous,” according to the UMBC website, and give middle and high school students a college-like experience to spark their interest in a given subject area.

William Blake, an assistant professor of political science at UMBC, teachers the moot court course. He said he hopes the high school students in the class “build critical thinking skills, confidence in public speaking and a curiosity with studying law” as they prepare to simulate an argument before the Supreme Court.

Blake has taught moot court classes at the collegiate level, but this course, held weekdays from July 23 to Aug. 3, was the first time he’s run the simulation with high school students.

Blake said it’s important because students in high school “start to figure out their political worldviews” and can benefit from the discussions that challenge them.

Garrett Miller, a rising junior at Mount Saint Joseph High School, said those sorts of challenges are his favorite part of the program. He likes the debate and the back and forth.

“I don’t know if the teachers agree with me all the time … but they’re always rational,” said Miller, who lives in Howard County.

Miller said he’s interested in following a career in law because of “unique role it has in shaping society,” especially at the appellate court and higher level, where legal precedents can be created.

Other courses in the Summer Enrichment Experience this year have included explorations of cybersecurity, leadership, guitar playing, vocals and chess.

The final course of the summer, which covers fluid mechanics, is reserved for rising juniors and seniors and runs Aug. 6 to Aug. 10. The course, with a registration fee of $495, promises to include programming and “wind tunnel” experiments. Registration is online at https://see.umbc.edu/see-descriptions-2/mechanical-engineering-magic-fluids/.

The moot court class will conclude after the students travel to the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and play out their Supreme Court case in the college’s moot court room.

Miller and Cunningham, who will be on different teams during the final competition, both said they would be doing a lot of research and practice to prepare arguments over complex legal ideas.

To break up the two-week class, the students took a field trip July 27 to Washington, D.C., where they toured the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court building.

Cunningham said the Supreme Court building was “cool and interesting.”

“But the actual courtroom was smaller than I expected,” he said.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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