The Pipeline Problem: Helping Diversity Students Succeed
Eight hours of physics, pre-calculus, and preparing for the SAT each day is a daunting schedule for just about any student. But there are high school juniors and seniors who live such a regimen—during summer vacation—for the sake of enriching their future academic and professional careers.
“It is summer, yes. But the tenacious schedule is designed to recreate the rigors of a college setting,” says Ty Walton, director of the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center (CMARC), which runs the Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS). In response to the anxiety students feel over losing six weeks of their summer to studying college-level math and science courses at Carnegie Mellon, Walton unapologetically answers: “If you want to be an excellent student you have to make sacrifices.” With today’s competition this “is the price to pay.”
SAMS is an acceleration program that propels good students to obtain the same professional and academic capacities as exceptional engineering students. Pre-college summer programs are typically designed for either outstanding students or helping “at risk” students, but SAMS is unique in that it targets solid performers with the potential to excel. The objective of SAMS is to expand the limited number of outstanding college-bound high school students with diverse backgrounds by developing them educationally and personally. The program’s main motto is “to make good students excellent.” SAMS prepares students to enroll and succeed at highly selective universities such as Carnegie Mellon.
Carnegie Mellon hosts approximately 100 SAMS students each year, all of whom are about to enter either their junior or senior year. “The students we admit, we build,” says Walton.
From the last week in June until the first week in August, the group simulates everything college—including dorm life, a rigorous course load, and developing long-term relationships with other participants and the staff and faculty at Carnegie Mellon. Seniors can even earn college credit for the courses they take. The program, by “building” on a student’s necessary math and science skill base, specifically seeks to increase the number of minority engineers.
Building the Pipeline
President and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Robert Stevens, wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on April 19, 2006. In it, he discusses the insufficient number of U.S. students receiving engineering degrees each year in relation to the impending exodus of America’s soon-to-retire high-tech workforce. “The looming tech talent shortfall will have an impact far beyond any single firm or sector,” wrote Stevens. “If the U.S. intends to remain the world’s technological leader, we have to act today, inspiring more young people to thrive in advanced-tech careers. It’s achievable, as long as government, the private sector, schools and communities work together.”
Carnegie Mellon sees SAMS as a way to address the limited number of outstanding college-bound high school graduates who come from diverse backgrounds, a concern often referred to as the “pipeline” problem.
“Our goal,” says Walton, “is to enlarge the pipeline by developing more high performing diverse students that are bound for the nation’s top-rated undergraduate engineering and science programs, of which Carnegie Mellon is one.
SAMS students often continue relationships formed during the academy. At this year’s annual national convention for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in Pittsburgh, SAMS alumni held a reunion. Carnegie Mellon’s president, Jared L. Cohon, spoke at the reunion, expressing that SAMS participants are indeed all alumni of Carnegie Mellon—whether they ended up attending the university or pursuing their education elsewhere.
Approximately 40 SAMS alumni representing each year of the program attended the reunion. A shared sentiment was the cultural and academic bond created at SAMS, and attendees reminisced about their time at the program. “It was encouraging to see other minorities doing well academically,” said one. Another described seeing the change in her own “ability to be an engineer in spite of race and gender.”
Those who have gone through the summer academy have been quite successful. One SAMS alumnus, Charles Louison, received a mechanical engineering degree at MIT and will attend Duke’s engineering management program. Another, Aleata Hubbard, recently graduated from the computer science program at Carnegie Mellon and is going on to Northwestern to earn her Ph.D. in technical language acquisition. A third, Emil Cuevas, graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and is coming to Carnegie Mellon for an advanced degree in architecture.
Corporations have played an integral role in the program’s success. The cost per student averages $5,000, which the university covers for each SAMS scholar, and corporate funding helps off-set these costs. Siemens, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Alcoa, and PPG have all generously supported SAMS and its parent organization, CMARC.
As to the future of SAMS, Walton says, “We’re always looking for corporate support from corporations interested in the pipeline issue.”
—John Worlton, June 2006