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Summer Science & Engineering Program

Summer Science program student writing in a notebook

The Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP) is designed for exceptional high school students with strong interests in science and engineering. Engage in hands-on research with Smith faculty in life and physical sciences and in engineering. Established in 1990, the program annually serves more than 100 students. Since its inception, nearly 1,800 students have participated, representing 46 states 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.

Hands-On Learning & Exploration

Central to the summer science program is a learning environment that is rich in role models. SSEP offers hands-on, cooperative, investigative and challenging learning—where students 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.

Two students in the lab for the summer science precollege program

Program Details

2023 SSEP Tuition

Tuition: $7,885 | Deposit: $1,575

Deposit due within two weeks of acceptance.

To learn more, see the Apply to Summer Programs page.

Overview

Smith College is among the top-rated liberal arts colleges in the United States and one of the nation’s largest colleges dedicated to educating women. In 1999, Smith became the first women’s college in the nation to establish its own program in engineering science, the Picker Engineering Program.

SSEP research courses emphasize asking questions and learning by doing, not only by listening and watching. Students choose 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 lab 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 sophisticated scientific instruments and develop valuable critical thinking and analytical skills.

2023 SSEP Program Schedule

NEW FOR 2023: two- and four-week sessions available!

July 9–
August 5, 2023
Classes are Monday–Friday.
First Session
July 9–22, 2023
  • Chemistry of Herbal Medicine
  • Designing Intelligent Robots
  • Global Young Women’s Health
  • Understanding and Conserving Plant Biodiversity
  • Your Genes, Your Chromosomes
Second Session
July 23–August 5, 2023
  • Making Connections
  • Novel Bacteriophage Discovery
  • Where the Body Meets the Mind
  • Water Matters

Courses

First Session

Second Session

Instructor

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.

Instructor

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.

Instructor

Margaret Brown, Ph.D.

Course Description

Open to students who are rising 10th graders and older

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, and presentations. Participants investigate 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 multicultural society. Global Young Women’s Health is an emotionally intense and rewarding course that builds individual and group knowledge and awareness.

Due to the material covered, this course is open to students entering tenth grade and older. 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.

Instructor

Jesse Bellemare

Course Description

In this two-week course we will explore the diversity of plants and their amazing ecological interactions with other organisms, from animal pollinators and plant consumers, to below-ground partners like fungi and bacteria. The course will emphasize hands-on experience with observing, dissecting and sketching representative plant species, from mosses and ferns to flowering orchids and cacti. We will visit the amazing Smith College Botanic Garden for inspiration and to collect material for dissections and exploration, including work with microscopes to observe fine-scale plant structures and adaptations. Field trips to plant communities around the Smith College campus, the college’s MacLeish Field Station and other natural areas will augment our considerations of plant biodiversity at local and global scales, from local wetlands to distant tropical rainforests. They will provide context for our consideration of the threats that plant biodiversity faces in the 21st century, from habitat destruction, invasive species and climate change. The course will also introduce approaches to the scientific study of plant ecological relationships with other organisms. We will gain experience with formulating hypotheses, designing ecological experiments and surveys, and collecting and analyzing data on plants and their many fascinating ecological interactions. This course will be of interest to students who want to study ecology, conservation, evolutionary biology, botany and landscape studies.

Instructor

Ashanta Ester

Course Description

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 gain experience with a variety of classical and modern techniques used in human genetic analysis. Students spend most of their time in the research laboratory, where they are the subjects of the experiments themselves! First, participants' blood samples are collected (with a simple finger poke) for a variety of analyses, such as determining their own blood types & calculating the frequencies of blood-type alleles in their class as well as photographing their own chromosomes & sorting them into a karyotype. Students also construct part of their own DNA fingerprints using multiplex PCR and analyze portions of their mitochondrial genomes. Time between experiments is spent working on genetic problem sets, which review the following topics: basic patterns of inheritance, probability, pedigree analysis, and population genetics. Visiting speakers in this course include a genetic counselor and a DNA crime scene analyst.

This course is open to students who have completed at least one year of high school biology.

Instructor

Narendra Pathak

Course Description

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.

Instructor

Samantha Torquato

Course Description

Bacteriophages (or phages) are viruses that infect bacteria. It is estimated that there are 1031 phages on Earth, but fewer than 3,000 phage genomes have been sequenced to date. Scientists believe that characterizing the functions of these yet-to-be-discovered viral genes will lead to important advances in biotechnology and medicine. This laboratory course is designed to involve each student in an authentic research experience: the discovery of novel phages! Students will experience the scientific process firsthand by designing an experiment, analyzing and interpreting data, and communicating results. In the laboratory, we will first isolate, purify and amplify new phages from environmental samples by using a specific bacterial host. Then, we will use electron microscopy to determine the sizes and shapes of these phages. Finally, we will perform additional molecular biology techniques (such as DNA isolation, restriction enzyme digestion, and gel electrophoresis) to analyze their genomes. This course will be of interest to students who want to study cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, biotechnology or medicine.

This course is open to students who have completed at least one year of high school biology.

Instructor

Ashley Bulseco

Course Description

In this two-week course, we will explore one of Earth’s most unique features: water. Covering approximately 70% of the planet’s surface, liquid water is essential for supporting life. Despite its importance, human activities such as pollution and climate change have dramatically altered the cycling, quality, and availability of water. In this course, we will take a deep dive into some of the issues facing water resources today. We will learn about threats to freshwater (ponds/lakes, streams, rivers) and saltwater (seas and oceans), focusing on the sources, fate and consequences of pollutants, with a particular emphasis on their connection to human health. We will discuss topics such as excess nutrients and eutrophication, emerging contaminants, heavy metals, water-borne diseases and plastic pollution, as well as the efforts put towards management and conservation of water resources. Students will gain hands-on experience in both the lab and the field, exploring different aquatic habitats in the region. Through inquiry-driven learning, we will walk through all aspects of the scientific method. In the second week of the course, students will design their own experiments to collect, analyze and interpret data and apply them to real-world scenarios. Students will leave this course with not only a stronger understanding of the analytical techniques used to assess water quality, but also a greater understanding of Earth’s water resources more broadly.

This course will be of interest to a wide range of students who are considering careers in disciplines that intersect the environment, as well as students interested in field-based research. These include marine sciences/biology, environmental studies, engineering, environmental policy/management and analytical/green chemistry.

 

Instructor

Katlin Okamoto

Course Description

Open to all students

Where the Body Meets the Mind is an exploration of the ways exercise, sport and physical activity are influential to, and influenced by, the mind. This course utilizes exercise science, sport psychology, sociology and students’ own experiences to better understand how movement and the mind are intertwined in physical activity and performance. Students will learn about how the body responds to exercise, training for performance and how concepts like sensation seeking, biofeedback and motivation play a role in exercise and sport. This course is experiential and will require students to participate in light physical activity. It will be of particular interest to students who wish to explore careers in medicine, physical therapy, coaching and mental health.


Summer Science at Smith