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Summer Science & Engineering Program

July 7–August 3, 2019

Young woman looks through a microscope at Smith College's summer science program

Now in its 30th year, the Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP) is a four-week residential program for exceptional young women with strong interests in science, engineering and medicine. Each July, select high school students from across the country and abroad come to Smith College to do hands-on research with Smith faculty in the life and physical sciences and in engineering.

Established in 1990, the SSEP annually serves more than 100 girls. Since its inception, nearly 1,800 high school students have participated, representing 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 53 countries. After the program, participants return to high school better prepared to tackle tough science courses and understand what to expect in college.

Smith College is among the top-rated liberal arts colleges in the United States and one of the nation's largest colleges dedicated solely to the education of women. The Smith science faculty employs some of the finest researchers and teachers in the country. In 1999 Smith became the first women's college in the nation to establish its own program in engineering science, the Picker Engineering Program.

Central to the program is a learning environment that is rich in role models. SSEP offers hands-on, cooperative, investigative and challenging learning—where girls get all of the faculty's attention as well as the opportunities and encouragement to achieve their best. Smith undergraduate students with science majors also serve as teaching assistants.

Research Courses

Unlike regular school classes, SSEP research courses emphasize asking questions and learning by doing, not only by listening and watching.

Students choose two two-week research courses; in these, groups of up to 17 students work alongside Smith faculty members, assisted by undergraduate interns. Informal lectures in the laboratory and out in the field encourage students to ask research questions, and they learn to conduct actual experiments. Most of the work is carried out as a cooperative team effort, with ample opportunities for individual contributions. SSEP participants learn how scientists and engineers formulate questions, work on amazingly sophisticated scientific instruments and develop valuable critical thinking and analytical skills.

Course Selection

Students who have paid their deposit will receive a link to the course selection form in late April in which they rank their preferences for courses. These forms, along with the application essay, help place students in their classes. Although not everyone will get their first choice, most students do. Students will be notified of their course placement on June 15.

2019 Courses

Once we accept students, we will send you a course preference selection sheet. We strive to provide at least one of your first choices.

First Session


Mona Kulp, Ph.D., Laboratory Instructor of Chemistry, Smith College

Class Description

Open to all students

A large portion of the world's population has a rich tradition of relying on plants for their medicinal properties. There is also a surging interest in integrating alternative medicine into contemporary western medical practice. Along with this interest, there is a growing realization in the scientific community that we need to better understand the safety and efficacy of these herbal medicines. In this course, we will start with plant material and go through the process of extracting and analyzing the compounds found in some commonly used herbal preparations. This course will also look at examples in the peer-reviewed literature to understand how these compounds alter the biochemistry of the human body and their impacts on human health. In addition to the analytical instruments and resources available in the Chemistry department for analyzing these samples, the students taking the course are also exposed to additional resources on the Smith campus, including the Mortimer Rare Book Room for historical material on the use of herbal medicine and the Botanic Gardens, which will provide some of the medicinal plants used in the experiments.

There are no prerequisites for this course. The course is designed as an introductory experience for students who have an interest in both chemistry and biology. The students will be introduced to ideas in chemistry and biology in an interdisciplinary setting so that they can build connections between the two disciplines.


Jessica Grant, M.S., Research Associate, Department of Biological Sciences, Smith College

Course Description

Open to students with no programming experience

This introductory computer science course aims to teach coding skills in a fun and engaging way. Each student will learn the basic structures and syntax of the Python programming language while designing and coding a game of her choice. Computer skills are best learned hands-on. Most of the time in this class will be spent working in groups, discussing ideas and actually coding. We will share our progress with other class members and brainstorm ideas and solutions. This class is designed for the beginner, with no prior programming experience. By the end of the class, you will be familiar with concepts like variables, functions, conditional statements and loops, and will have a fun game to play!

This course is open to all, but geared toward students with little or no programming experience.


Lou Ann Bierwert, M.A., Information and Technology Director, Center for Molecular Biology, and Ashanta Ester, M.S., Research Associate, Biological Sciences, Smith College.

Course Description

Open to students who have completed one year of high school biology

Human genetics has fascinated us for centuries—beginning with the basic question of why we look like our ancestors and continuing to recent advances in medical and courtroom analyses. In this course, students will gain experience with a variety of classical and modern techniques used in human genetic analysis. The course will include explorations in basic genetics, probability, pedigree analysis, molecular genetics and population genetics. Participants will determine their own blood types and calculate the frequencies of blood-type alleles in their class, photograph their own chromosomes, sort them into a karyotype and construct part of their own DNA fingerprints using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Students in this course spend most of their time in the research laboratory. The subjects of the experiments are the students themselves—students will collect their own blood samples (with a simple finger poke) for a variety of analyses. Time between experiments is spent working on genetic problem sets. Visiting speakers include a genetic counselor and a DNA crime scene analyst.


Doreen Weinberger, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, Smith College

Course Description

Open to all students

This course is a hands-on introduction to robot design and programming. Student teams will receive a kit containing a microprocessor controller, a set of motors and sensors, and various Lego building parts and tools. They will learn how to connect the components and program the controller to make a robot that can move autonomously and intelligently in its environment. For instance, with appropriate programming the robot can avoid obstacles, seek out light, make decisions for changing its behavior based on sensory input, or respond to messages communicated by other robots. Students will perform a variety of activities: building simple robots to accomplish specific tasks, programming in a PC lab, creating their own final robot project, and testing and redesigning to optimize their robot performance. They will also learn HTML and use it to create their own web pages, which will serve as a record of their progress in the course.

Unlike many courses in robotics where the task is to build a robot that performs a specific function (for example pushing ping-pong balls or battling with another robot), in this course students use their own creativity to design robots that do whatever they want. There is lots of trial and error problem-solving in both computer programming and building the robots.


Jon Caris, Spatial Analysis Lab Director, Smith College

Course Description

Open to all students

Drones, also known as small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV), are revolutionizing field-based scientific research. They are becoming integral to many industries and operations such as film making, infrastructure inspections, search & rescue, precision agriculture, and of course, package delivery. But drones are not without controversy and concern. In this course we will explore the technology, as well as the affordances and problems of drones. You will examine a variety of drone platforms with the opportunity to add customizations by working with rapid prototyping tools. You will learn to fly a drone and practice getting that perfect dronie (a selfie taken by a drone) to send home to your friends and family. Stunning photography and video are also possible, and we will learn techniques that can enhance research and storytelling. You will also learn how to create high resolution maps and 3D surface models for a variety of research applications. Before you take control of your drone, you and your partner will have to understand the airspace for safe flight and operations. Drones are fun, but we take them very seriously.

Students in this class will gain experience with design, critical thinking, and troubleshooting. They'll also learn about photogrammetry, mapping, drone programming and configuration, electronics, and aerodynamics. This course is for students with interests in engineering, field sciences, photography, and filmmaking.


Leslie Jaffe, M.D., College Physician, Smith College

Course Description

Open to all students

Globally, adolescent girls face an array of health-related challenges in their daily lives, and this course empowers young women to explore them. Lack of gender equity, including the right to an education and access to health care, places millions of girls in poor and developing countries at increased risk for poor health and preventable deaths. Through individual and group activities, this course provides opportunities to learn about many of these issues, including health disparities in the United States, child brides in Asia, obstetric fistula in Africa, maternal deaths in India, and violence against women globally. Course activities include research, discussion, field trips, and presentations. We will read Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. Participants contribute to the program Web site, while also investigating essential young women’s health topics such as the menstrual cycle, healthy eating, media literacy, violence, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional health. These topics are considered within the contexts of current research in biology and medicine, and today's multi-cultural society. Global Young Women’s Health is an intense and rewarding course that builds individual and group knowledge and awareness.

This course is open to all students motivated to learn. Students in this course become members of a close-knit working group, sharing their own stories and learning from others while conducting research and participating in course activities. Students interested in health-related careers and medicine may find this course useful.

Second Session


Alexandra Burgess, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Psychology, Worcester State University

Course Description

Open to all students

We all experience anxiety; it is an inherent quality of the human condition. In this course, we will explore why humans experience anxiety and discuss the important function that anxiety plays in our lives. At the same time, sometimes severe anxiety symptoms develop in early childhood that create problems in daily living. Students will learn about how anxiety can become problematic and the different ways that high levels of anxiety can be expressed in young children (e.g., Social Phobia, Separation Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic, General Anxiety). In discussing these anxiety disorders, students will learn to approach the topic with the lens of a clinical psychologist. Students will not only learn about childhood anxiety, but also about the methods that clinical psychologists use to study these problems. Experiential learning components include the collection of data by and with class participants, analysis of data from an ongoing study in a statistics laboratory, and creative projects related to the human experience of anxiety.


Chris Vriezen, Ph.D., Laboratory Instructor of Biosciences, Smith College

Course Description

Open to students who have completed one year of high school biology

Antibiotics play an important role in modern medical treatments for bacterial infections. Their discovery revolutionized the practice of medicine and significantly reduced death rates due to infection and bacterial diseases. However, the overuse of antibiotics has lead to a dramatic increase in antibiotic resistant microorganisms that can cause infections. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Flouroquinolone resistant Clostridium difficile (C. diff) are just two examples of pathogens in which antibiotic resistance has had dramatic effects on our ability to overcome infections caused by these microorganisms. One potential solution to this problem is to again go to the soil biome and attempt to find and characterize novel bacterial isolates with the ability to produce antibiotics. Students will first learn standard microbiological techniques such as aseptic work, isolation streaks, making and inoculating liquid cultures, and plate counting. This is followed by the screening of novel bacteria from soil we collect ourselves at Smith's MacLeish Field Station. Finally, some isolates may be characterized in more detail on the molecular (PCR and sequencing) and Biochemical level. Although strict safety protocols are followed, this class is not appropriate for students with compromised immune systems.


Mona Kulp, Ph.D., Laboratory Instructor, Department of Chemistry, Smith College.

Course Description

Open to all students

There is a well-established link between food that we eat and common chronic health conditions such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. It has also been proposed that food or particular diets could serve as the key to reversing these health outcomes. There is an incredible amount of information available about what we should eat for optimal health and much of it is conflicting, difficult to parse and understand. This course will focus on taking an evidence-based approach to food and health claims. We will learn how to evaluate data that is part of a clinical trial and to critically read scientific information. We will also spend time in the lab analyzing the chemistry and biology of food! Using a number of analytical techniques, we will learn how scientists are able to determine the nutritional content of whole foods. We will also look for chemicals that are commonly used as food additives and understand their impact on human health. Our goal is to take a holistic look at the food we eat, with the idea that food can serve as medicine. Specific objectives for the course are to give students hands-on experience with chemistry, develop scientific writing and presentation skills, expand skills in chemical literacy, and critically read scientific papers. The class will also spend some time preparing and tasting foods and going on local field trips where we can make connections between chemistry and the food we consume. The course is designed as an introductory experience for students who have an interest in chemistry, biology, health and medicine.


Adam Hall, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Sciences, and Naren Pathak, Lecturer, Biological Sciences, Smith College

Course Description

Open to all students

Through studies of the nervous system, neuroscientists explore how we sense, feel, think, and move. Students in this course will learn about how neurons (cells of the nervous system) communicate through a fascinating array of mechanisms and networks to generate complex human behaviors. Using sophisticated microscopes, we will examine the cells of the nervous system and the neuroanatomy of the brain. Through experiments in the laboratory, including dissection of tadpole, zebrafish, and sheep brains, we will explore how neurons function at multiple levels: molecular, cellular, and in living organisms such as ourselves. We will use live zebrafish larvae as a model organism to assess the toxic effects of substances such as ethanol on brain development. With some simple (and painless) techniques, we will even measure nerve conduction in our own bodies and brains.


Joyce Palmer-Fortune,  Physics Department Lecturer

Course Description

Microcontrollers are essential to our modern life. From nightlights to spaceships, these little electronic chips are everywhere. Have you ever wanted to know how a remote control works, or how a dishwasher knows when to change cycles? Have you ever wanted to design your own electronic device? If so, then this class is for you! In this class we will explore the basics of circuit design and computer programming using the popular Arduino platform. Some topics that will be covered are: electrical components, basic electrical circuits, hardware systems, programming, and device design. You will design and build your own final project that will put the mighty microcontroller to work for you.

Is This Course For Me?

Open to all students.

Faculty & Staff

Meg Thacher

Academic Director

Meg Lysaght Thacher has worked as a laboratory instructor in the astronomy department at Smith since 1999. She has also taught physics and writing at Smith. She received her bachelor's degree in physics from Carleton College and her master's in astrophysics from Iowa State University. Thacher taught astronomy for five years in Smith's Summer Science and Engineering Program before becoming its academic director. Her science articles for kids have been published in Muse, Faces, Odyssey, and Ask magazines.

Lou Ann Bierwert

Lou Ann Bierwert is the instruments and techniques instructor and technical director of the Center for Molecular Biology at Smith College. She received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Smith and was a research associate for more than two decades at Smith in molecular-based projects in parasitology and biomechanical engineering. She enjoys passing on her expertise in molecular techniques during SSEP, where she has taught Your Genes, Your Chromosomes for 13 years.

Alexandra Burgess

Alexandra Burgess is a Smithie (class of 2008) who completed her doctoral work at the University of Hawaii in Child Clinical Psychology. Alex taught at Smith College for several years in the Psychology Department, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Worcester State University. Alex's research focuses on anxiety, depression, and perfectionism in children, as well as cross-cultural topics in mental health. SSEP students in Alex's classes learn how clinical psychologists approach the study of human behavior, and gain insights into the development, maintenance, and presentation of clinical symptoms. During lab time, students use clinical data sets to explore research strategies and data analysis techniques in SPSS.

Jon Caris

Jon Caris is the GIS Specialist and Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) at Smith College. Primarily trained as a geographer and environmental planner, he received a M.S. in GeoEnvironmental Studies from Shippensburg University and a B.A. in Geography from the State University of New York at Geneseo. Jon's initiatives are diverse and include building capacity for the Spatial Analysis Lab to operating UAVs (drones) to embracing and promoting Digital Humanities as an opportunity to extend and enrich Spatial Thinking within the Smith Community. All of his initiatives build upon the idea of making the invisible, visible. He enjoys creating conditions that afford opportunity to see through a spatial lens which prompts new questions and discussion. Some of Jon's research interests address questions concerning decisions made in the political economy that manifest themselves upon the landscape. He is particularly interested in visualizing partitioned, regulated space that unintentionally marginalizes individuals and communities. This area of interest now extends into the vertical to include airspace and takes on contested issues such as who owns the sky and new forms of surveillance.

Ashanta Ester

Ashanta Ester is a Springfield, MA, native with a bachelor's degree in biology/pre-med from Our Lady of the Elms College and a master's in biology from Smith College. She has been doing molecular-based research in parasitology since 2013, with current projects in diagnostics of Lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminths. She is looking forward to passing on her passion for molecular biology to the students in Your Genes, Your Chromosomes in SSEP.

Jessica Grant

Jessica Grant has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Washington and a master's in biology from Smith College. She has worked at Smith since 2005 as a research associate in evolutionary biology, and, more recently, as a lab instructor in computer science. She is a self-taught programmer and loves solving puzzles and problems through coding. When she isn't in front of her computer, Grant raises goats and chickens in her suburban backyard.

Adam Hall

Adam Hall earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and his doctorate in biochemistry from the Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London. His laboratory research investigates the molecular mechanisms of anesthetic action in the mammalian nervous system. For Smith's precollege program, Hall teaches the neurobiology course Making Connections: An Exploration of the Nervous System. Using sophisticated microscopes, SSEP students get to examine the cells of the nervous system and the neuroanatomy of the brain. Through laboratory experiments, they explore how neurons function at multiple levels: molecular, cellular and in living organisms. Hall is Smith's director of the neuroscience program and an associate professor of biological sciences.

Leslie Jaffe

Leslie Jaffe is the director of Health Services and the college physician at Smith. In addition to providing care to students, he also teaches two courses: one looks broadly at women's health and the other focuses on women in India, including Tibetan women living there in exile. The latter is a small seminar of five students who travel to India with Jaffe for a month to learn experientially what they have already studied. Previously, Jaffe served as director of the Adolescent Health Center of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the largest clinic for teens in the country. He is a board-certified pediatrician and did his fellowship training in adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai. Continuing his work and interest with adolescents, Jaffe has taught in the Smith Summer Science and Engineering program for many years.

Mona Kulp

Mohini (Mona) Kulp has bachelor's degrees in biochemistry and mathematics from Mount Holyoke College. Her doctorate is in biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco. She has worked at Smith in the Center for Proteomics on large scale data analysis of biological samples using mass spectrometry. She currently teaches in the chemistry department at Smith College. Her teaching and research interests have focused on the use of analytical chemistry to answer questions that are of interest to biologists including analyzing herbal medicines for safety and efficacy and looking at the migration of toxic heavy metals into our every day lives( through food, supplements and environmental exposure). When she is not in class during the summer, she enjoys running, hiking and spending time in her garden with her growing collection of fragrant plants that get incorporated into the course work of the SSEP classes that she teaches.

Katlin Okamoto

Katlin Okamoto has a master's degree in Exercise and Sport Studies from Smith College and a bachelor's in Biology from Colorado College. She has taught for several years in the Smith College Exercise and Sport Studies Department and has 20+ years of experience coaching soccer at the collegiate and youth levels. Okamoto is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota where she focuses on sports-based youth development in the School of Social Work. Okamoto works with all ages of youth in the club soccer community in Minneapolis and is a research intern at the Search Institute, where she focuses on developmental relationships between youth and non-parent adults. She enjoys sports, exercise, and the outdoors and loves working with SSEP students to discover their passion for physical activity through the Body in Motion course.

Narendra Pathak

Naren Pathak is a lecturer and laboratory instructor in the Biological Sciences Department. Naren obtained his Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and has worked with diverse animal models including rat snakes, chicks, and zebrafish. As a cell biologist and molecular geneticist, he uses zebrafish to model how genes linked to human diseases perturb organ development and physiology. Expanding on his expertise in cilia biology and CRISPR technology, Naren has created mutants in novel genes linked to autism spectrum disorders to define their roles in neuroglial development.

Chris Vriezen

De J.A.C. Vriezen goes by Chris. He has a master's degree in biology from the University of Wageningen, Netherlands, and a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His main interest is the stress response of bacteria-physical/chemical stresses as well as biological. He has been studying the response of soil-borne bacteria to salt and desiccation. More recently he is studying the environmental and culture conditions that lead to the production of antimicrobials by these organisms. In his teaching he isolates bacteria that produce antibiotics in an attempt to pursue solutions to emerging antibiotic resistance in medically relevant microorganisms.

Doreen Weinberger

Doreen Weinberger received her bachelor's in physics and astronomy from Mount Holyoke College and her doctorate in optical sciences from the University of Arizona. Before arriving at Smith, she was a faculty member in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, where she was instrumental in helping to develop a graduate program in optics and did research studying nonlinear effects in optical fibers. Since 1991 she has been a professor in the physics department at Smith, where her ongoing research has focused on using lasers to study a variety of physical systems, from ultra-cold atomic gases to microcrystals in minerals. She has been an instructor in SSEP for almost her entire time at Smith, which proves that playing with LEGOs never gets old.

Anne Wibiralske

Anne has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Grinnell College, a master of forest science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and a doctorate in biogeochemistry from the Earth and Environmental Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Drawing on her experience teaching undergraduate field-based environmental science and interdisciplinary problem-solving focused environmental studies courses, Anne brings her enthusiasm for field-based, experiential learning to the Field Studies for Sustainable Futures Program.

SSEP Tuition: $6,380

  • Tuition covers room, board and all academic costs, including books, classroom field trips, etc.
  • Tuition includes the nonrefundable deposit.

Program Schedule

Sunday, July 7, 2019
1-4 p.m. Registration
4-5 p.m. Parent Q&A
TBD Residential orientation
Monday, July 8, 2019
9 a.m. Classes begin
  Program orientation
Friday, July 19, 2019
6:30-8:30 p.m. First session presentations*
Saturday, July 20, 2019
9 a.m.-noon First session presentations*
Friday, August 2, 2019
6:30-8:30 p.m. Second session presentations*
Saturday, August 3, 2019
9 a.m.-noon Second session presentations*
Noon Lunch**
by 1:30 p.m. Departure

*Open to family and friends.

**Family and friends are invited to stay for lunch following presentations.

A Typical Day

9 a.m.-noon Morning class
Noon-1 p.m. Lunch
1-4 p.m. Afternoon classes and lab
5:30-7 p.m. Dinner
7-10 p.m. Fun house activities that change daily
11 p.m. Quiet hours
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