Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events
   Date: 11/17/10 Bookmark and Share

From Summer Science to Smith

More than 1,700 Women Hosted by SSEP in 20 Years...and Counting

By Lily Samuels ’11

At the end of the academic year, after most Smith College students have left campus, high school girls interested in science, engineering and math arrive here for the Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP).

Though it is an outreach initiative, neither seen nor experienced by much of the undergraduate population, the annual four-week program that has attracted more than 1,700 young women to campus since it began in 1990 contributes to the Smith academic community in many ways.

Each year, the program employs about a dozen undergraduate Smith students to serve as teaching assistants to faculty members, and role models and counselors for the students.

“They are able to see from a faculty perspective exactly what it means to be a teacher,” says Gail Scordilis, Smith alumna and director of the Center for Community Collaboration. “One of our goals in our outreach program is to encourage students who are majoring in the sciences at Smith to explore the possibility of being teachers themselves. Our society needs a literate, talented core of science and technology educators.”

Participating faculty also benefit from the SSEP, using the program as a laboratory for their own curricular development. “The first engineering course at Smith—a course on robotics—came out of the SSEP the summer before the engineering program was born,” said Scordilis.

More than 130 SSEP students have gone on to enroll at Smith. For them, the SSEP launched them on their collegiate path.

“It gave me a glimpse of the life here at Smith,” recounts Taylor Mikucki ’14, who completed the SSEP in the summer of 2006. “I developed the confidence I needed, propelling me to do well in high school.”

For Mikucki, the advantage of having already been engaged academically with Smith faculty was significant. “My first experience with chemistry was with Professor Becci during the SSEP, and it made a lasting impression. When I arrived on campus as a Smithie, one of the first things I wanted to do was visit her, and it really brought me a lot of comfort as I adjusted to college life.”

The SSEP’s outreach potential has been enhanced by grants from numerous foundations and corporations, including a recent award of $48,000 from Motorola—the equivalent of 10 full scholarships for promising students with financial need.

“Motorola is a technology-focused company and has very strong philanthropic values encouraging women—and particularly underrepresented women—to go into the sciences,” explains Scordilis.

Through Motorola’s grant network, the SSEP now has connections with the National Girls Collaborative Project, based in Washington, and Platform Shoes in Maine. The three programs have received a second grant from Motorola to begin a project called “Fab Femmes,” designed to translate the content of the SSEP and similar programs into a Web-based format for broader dissemination.

“We’ll also be exploring how to create a network of role models for young women in the sciences,” notes Scordilis, “and we intend to draw upon the 1,700 SSEP alumnae.”

Even those who do not decide to matriculate at Smith seem to pursue majors in math and science. Follow-up surveys indicate about 76 percent of participants who have gone on to college have majored in one of those fields, which is significantly higher than the national average.

“As long as there is endemic underrepresentation of women in the sciences, there will be a need to reach out to girls and young women,” reflects Scordilis. “They come and they see that the sciences can be put into contexts that are relevant to our daily lives, to our health, and to our future. And that’s very much the message of the program.”

DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z