AMHERST, Mass. - Fifty tenth-graders will spend part of July and August on the University of Massachusetts campus conducting DNA fingerprinting, experimenting with laser light diffraction, exploring computer-aided design, and doing many other things they might previously have only dreamed about.
The students are participants in the University’s Northeast Science Enrichment Program (SEP), which aims to encourage successful high school students from minority and underserved backgrounds to pursue high-level careers in science and mathematics. The program was launched in 1992 by Donald St. Mary, head of the University’s department of mathematics and statistics, with $2 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI’s recent grant extension of $500,000 -- considered a vote of confidence in the program -- will allow SEP to continue through this summer. Admission is highly competitive, with more than 200 applications from throughout New England and upstate New York. Students are selected on the basis of their academic achievement and interest in science.
Participants live on campus for five weeks, taking classes and conducting research in the University’s laboratories. Students attend classes five days a week, studying biology, chemistry, computer science, math, physics, and language arts. The program pairs professors from UMass and other colleges and universities who have access to the latest technologies in their fields with high-school teachers who are experienced at dealing with the unique issues facing young teenagers. Outside of class, students will make presentations at a science fair; attend a career day; and go on field trips to places such as the Boston Museum of Science. They also will have the opportunity to attend seminars with renowned scientists and take part in recreational activities.
"The program is an experience and a way of life," says St. Mary. "SEP can have an impact on the rest of their lives. There is a huge infusion of knowledge about how science is done, and what it is like to be a scientist."
"The students are so energetic and enthusiastic," says program coordinator Georgette Healy. "They’re busy all day long, and they want to learn more."
To date, the program has been extremely successful, according to St. Mary. A survey of the 1992 participants showed that 43 of the 50 had been accepted into college. A follow-up indicated that 37 of the 50 were in their second or third year of college, and of those students, 57 percent were majoring in science. Of the 45 participants who responded to a 1993 survey, all had been accepted to college, and 71 percent were planning to major in science.