Summer program at Harris-Stowe gives science students a boost | St. Louis Public Radio

Summer program at Harris-Stowe gives science students a boost

Jul 27, 2015

Some incoming freshmen at Harris-Stowe State University are getting their first taste of college life — and a crash course in math and science.

Every summer, the Academy for Science & Mathematics provides up to 25 students with free room and board and a $1000 stipend.

Program director Tommie Turner said the program aims to give high school graduates the skills they need to succeed in college-level courses, especially young people with an interest in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering, or STEM. "Students take their chemistry, their physical science, their mathematics, biology, learn how to take note-taking and study skills, all in a five-week residential program," Turner said.

Students Kaviona Donaldson and Jayleen Gonzalez work with a circuit board in the physical science lab at Harris-Stowe.
Credit Bob Morrison | Harris-Stowe State University

The program also gets students out of the classroom and introduces them to working scientists.

"The students are exposed either through field experiences, or various professionals in the city that come and talk to the students during the Academy," Turner said.

This summer, Academy students have visited Cortex, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Saint Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering. They’ve also heard speakers from the National Society of Black Engineers at Boeing, the Goldfarb School of Nursing, and the National Organization of Minority Architects.

The Academy for Science & Mathematics began in 2009 with funding from a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Harris-Stowe has received two more NSF grants since then to continue their STEM initiatives, which include the summer academy, undergraduate research, faculty mentoring programs and student science internships.

Nineteen-year-old Kimon Chapman said he found out about the program one day at church and thought it would be a good idea to attend. "Science wasn’t really my strong field, so I decided to see if I can improve on it," Chapman said.

Kaviona Donaldson thought the program would help with her career. "I want to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, so it’s a lot of math and science that’s involved," Donaldson said. She admits that her first college experience has been a big change from high school. "Because in high school you can — I’m not going to say ‘slack’ — but it’s not as challenging as college is," Donaldson said. "But that’s a good thing because I like challenges."

Donovan Forrest, who wants to double major in math and computer engineering, was eager to participate. "I felt like this would be a great opportunity to experience college early and get a head start before all the other freshmen," Forrest said.

Academy participants Jayleen Gonzalez, Donovan Forrest, Kimon Chapman and Kaviona Donaldson, from left to right, talk during a tour of the St. Louis Cortex Innovation Hub on July 23.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

All of the students I spoke with said the hardest part about the program wasn’t learning the math and science. It was keeping up with all the work.

Jayleen Gonzalez, who plans to become an architectural engineer, said time management was key. "The program’s really fast-paced," Gonzalez said. "And there’s a lot of classes. And because it’s a five week program, and the way things have to move to make it into that time, you have a lot of stuff to do. So you have to plan accordingly. And that’s probably the most important thing that I learned from the program."

The Academy’s director, Tommie Turner, said African Americans continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, and that students need to be encouraged — and prepared — to enter careers in science. "These are very lucrative careers," Turner said. "Innovation is definitely at the forefront within the whole economic system. So, all hands on deck; there’s room for everyone to be involved with STEM and there’s a lot of opportunities."

The 2015 Harris-Stowe Academy for Science & Mathematics will wrap up this Friday with a ceremony and student science expo.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience