Hurst Student Seminars: High School and Middle School Great Ideas

The Seminars

The Aspen Institute offers two Hurst Students Seminar, High School Great Ideas for students in the 10th grade and Middle School Great Ideas for students in the 8th grade. Both seminars are modeled after the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar which has been convening leaders from around the world for over 65 years.

Each four-day seminar is dedicated to enhancing leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking skills for students living in the Roaring Fork Valley. Students are challenged to think more analytically and deeply about their values and ideas, and those that make the good society. Our proven method of text-based dialogue offers participants a neutral forum in which to reflect on timeless human values, pursue common ground, and cultivate a richer understanding of the human condition. Participants emerge from the seminar with a new perspective as they confront the difficult choices of our ever-changing world.

The Setting

Located on the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Meadows campus, the beauty of the Rocky Mountains is the ideal setting for reflective thinking and rigorous conversation.

In an environment conducive to thought and fellowship, each seminar convenes a diverse group of 24-28 students for lively, intensive roundtable discussions led by a skilled moderator.  A variety of classic and contemporary texts form the starting points of a rich conversation in which the questions posed by the group are frequently as illuminating as the varied, timeless wisdom of the texts.

The Great Ideas Seminars are invitation only and students are selected by a representative from their school.

What is Values-Based Leadership?

At the Aspen Institute, we believe that the most effective leadership begins with self-reflection, that wisdom is learned, not taught, and that leaders learn best in the company of diverse peers engaging in civil discourse. Our unique, humanities-based approach to leadership includes an emphasis on the core values of self-leadership and awareness, justice, honesty, integrity, and authenticity.

In addition to the specific content of each seminar, participants gain:

  • A deepened understanding of the benefits of multiple perspectives;
  • An enhanced ability to work with and inspire others;
  • Courage in making decisions;
  • An ability to deal with complex situations;
  • A personal vision for living a meaningful life;
  • An expanded network of deeply connected, socially-conscious peers.


Moderated in traditional Aspen Institute Socratic style by an expert moderator, students read selections such as:

  • Plato’s The Republic
  • Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
  • Ursula LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail
  • Steve Jobs’ How to Live Before You Die
  • Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own
  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech