Summer Science to Smith
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 .
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
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
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.”