Helping Good Students Become Excellent Students
High school students usually spend summer lounging by the pool or building camp fires. But some choose to forgo the traditional vacation in favor of a rigorous six-week program that will help them build the academic and professional skills necessary to gain admission to top-ranked colleges and universities. The program, Carnegie Mellon's Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (SAMS), targets students interested in pursuing careers in science and math-based disciplines and nurtures them through classroom instruction, project coursework, and academic development…and it's fun.
The SAMS objective is to increase the declining number of outstanding college-bound high school graduates with diverse backgrounds—commonly known as the "pipeline" problem—particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Building the pipeline is the critical first step in keeping the nation competitive during a time of ever-increasing global demand for expertise.
SAMS provides the early exposure needed to peak interest in STEM education and also offers invaluable peer mentoring to ease the transition from high school to college. Approximately 100 inbound juniors and seniors take part in SAMS each year.
While one goal of SAMS is to build the pipeline among underrepresented groups, SAMS is open to all promising juniors and seniors. Since its inception in 2001, the academy has served 757 students—320 juniors, 304 seniors, and 133 students who attended as both juniors and seniors. Forty-nine percent of SAMS alumni are female; the majority are Black, Hispanic, or Native American; and they came from 41 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
SAMS 2009 will take place from June 27 to August 7.
The Real-World Approach
Carnegie Mellon has a long history of partnering with industry leaders to best prepare students for the expectations in the job market, and SAMS is no different. The academy is made possible through generous funding from industry partners Motorola, Siemens, Boeing, Cisco, Alcoa, Lockheed Martin, and The Pittsburgh Foundation.
The opportunity to apply concepts and principles introduced in the classroom to hands-on projects separates SAMS from other summer programs. Participants not only learn from leading Carnegie Mellon faculty, but they are also mentored through competitive projects to demonstrate the skills they've acquired. That exposure pushes students to maximize their potential and pursue challenging academic paths and careers.
"[My favorite part of the program] was making my first car, entertainment technology, and…making my first robot," said Pedro Martinez of Fort Lauderdale, FL. "It's a lot of firsts over here."
Martinez's comments were echoed by fellow alum Julondre Brown of Flint, MI: "In biology we did DNA extraction, we did PCR [polymerase chain extraction]…and those are some of the things that my teachers haven’t even done at home."
"Come to SAMS," he continued, "You're going to have fun, you're going to learn a lot, but this is no joke. It's real work, it's a real college experience."
At the end of the program students are invited to share their projects with family and friends at the closing symposium, when two top students are selected by the Siemens Foundation for special recognition.
The SAMS Advantage
Building the pipeline of qualified students isn't as easy as shoring up interest in STEM disciplines—the first step is gaining admission to a selective university. As any parent will attest, college admissions are becoming increasingly competitive. For the 2008-2009 academic year, for example, Carnegie Mellon received over 13,500 unique applications for roughly 1,500 first-year spots, representing a 5% increase over the previous year and a 54% increase over 2004.
To help prospective students earn a coveted spot on an admissions list, SAMS offers a Kaplan SAT preparation course. According to a recent report issued by Carnegie Mellon's Office of Institutional Research & Analysis, SAMS alumni have improved their average SAT score by 114 since 2001. Last year's participants reported an average increase of 220 points—a significant jump given the competitiveness of college admissions.
But SAMS organizers realize that education and test scores are only one part of a student's decision when evaluating prospective colleges. Therefore the program also provides exposure to role models in engineering and science and helps cultivate relationships between students and Carnegie Mellon faculty, students, and staff. By introducing students to industry and academic leaders, SAMS organizers hope to inspire young minds.
According to one SAMS participant and current chemical and biomedical engineering major at Carnegie Mellon, "The primary value came from being able to be in a complete college atmosphere prior to actually attending college. I was able to be engulfed academically, socially, and emotionally into what it would be like to attend school away from home. This opportunity allowed me define myself and learn more about the person who I really desire to become."
Making It All Possible
The Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science is one of many development programs offered through the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center (CMARC) whose purpose is to build a supportive, intellectual and social community bridging the campus's diverse cultures. CMARC also offers pre-college summer programs in the fine arts, architecture, design, drama, and music.
The continued success of SAMS has attracted notable attention: the program was recognized in the Association of American Colleges & Universities recent publication "More Reasons for Hope: Diversity Matters in Higher Education" and CMARC Director Ty Walton was asked to present information on SAMS at Motorola's 2009 Innovation Generation Network Conference in July. This year's theme is "Inspiring the Next Generation."
In addition to pre-college programs, CMARC works closely with undergraduates on campus to provide the most fulfilling college experience possible through leadership and development seminars and community building programs such as Shaping Tomorrow's Leaders! and ORIGINS. The advisory committee also facilitates student participation at conferences like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students.
Inspiring confidence in students and giving them the tools to succeed will help build the pipeline to ensure our nation's growth. As one participant noted following last year's program, "everything that selective colleges look for in a student was polished by SAMS and I feel like I've had doors opened for me."