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Success STEMs From Carnegie Mellon's
Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science
Program Expands Pipeline of Students From Underrepresented Groups Who Enroll at Top Universities
PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (SAMS), a program designed to increase the number of outstanding college-bound students from diverse backgrounds who pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.
"We recruit students interested in science and math who are performing well academically, but not fulfilling their potential. We help good students become excellent students," said Ty Walton, director of SAMS and the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center.
Since its inception, more than 800 students from 41 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have attended SAMS. The majority of participants are of black, Hispanic or Native American backgrounds.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found recession-era college enrollment growth has been driven by a significant increase in minority student enrollment. However, most of this growth has been concentrated at for-profit schools, trade schools and community colleges.
As of September 2009, 83 SAMS alumni had enrolled at Carnegie Mellon. Alumni also are gaining admission to other top-ranked research institutions. Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have each been home to nine SAMS alumni. Multiple alumni also have enrolled at each of the following schools: Dartmouth, Duke, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, Princeton, Rochester Institute of Technology, Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Pennsylvania and Yale.
"While one goal of SAMS is to attract talented students to Carnegie Mellon," Walton said, "another goal is to create a nationwide network of students and professionals who support one another and collaborate on academic projects and research."
Admission to the program has become highly competitive. More than 730 rising high school juniors and seniors applied for 55 open spots in this year's program, which runs June 26-Aug. 6. An additional 15 students are returning to SAMS for a second year.
SAMS students take courses and complete research projects in computer science, engineering, math and science. Jeffrey Peterson, a physics professor in CMU's Mellon College of Science, has been teaching a SAMS electronics course for five years. He has observed many students who develop the confidence to pursue careers in fields they previously thought were out of their reach.
"The students build circuits every day, starting with very simple ones and working up to quite complex circuits," Peterson said. "Many students are very timid at first, convinced this type of work is beyond their ability. Most of the circuits don't work at first, but they learn to use an oscilloscope to diagnose problems. Pretty soon they are modifying the designs and coming up with their own. By the end, some students say 'I could be an engineer.'"
Turi Alcoser from San Antonio attended SAMS in 2007 and is now a junior at Carnegie Mellon majoring in materials science and biomedical engineering. He is conducting research on human cancer cells this summer in the lab of College of Engineering faculty member Kris Dahl. Alcoser's research is funded through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Scholar Program.
"SAMS builds dreams that you would not have even thought of had you not come here," Alcoser said. "My dream was specifically research."
SAMS students also participate in SAT preparation courses and workshops focused on the college application process. A survey of SAMS alumni who took the SAT from 2001 to 2008 found an average increase of 57.5 points in critical reading and 57.2 points in math following the program. The College Board reported in 2009 an average gain of 12 points in critical reading and 13 points in math following one SAT retake.
There are no housing and dining fees for SAMS students, and there is no tuition thanks to internal, alumni, corporate and foundation support. Alumnus Russ Crockett (CIT '87) recently provided the program with a $50,000 endowed gift. This year's corporate and foundation supporters include Boeing Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Motorola, Siemens Foundation and Eden Hall Foundation.