Summer Scholars Program returns with changes for second year

The Summer Scholars program will enter the second year of its four year pilot run this summer, and several changes are being implemented. The program, often abbreviated S3P, seeks to help students from underrepresented groups who have an interest in STEM fields to make the transition to college. The committee running the program, headed by Professor of History Allison Dorsey, say changes include switching the focus of lab portion of the program from biology to physics, changing which faculty were involved in the program, and hiring a group of current Swarthmore students to work with the incoming class of S3P students over the summer. Many faculty and students characterized the first year of the program as a success, but the future of the program remain undetermined as permanent funding from the college has not yet been secured

Math Professor Cheryl Grood was involved in the original planning of S3P and taught in the program’s first run last summer. She used the program as an opportunity to dispel common misunderstandings about math that may make the subject intimidating to students.

“For the math portion of the program, I had many of the same goals that I have for my classes during the academic year, such as debunking a lot of the ‘myths’ about what it takes to succeed in mathematics,” said Grood.

“So many people believe that mathematical talent is some innate, fixed quantity–that if math doesn’t come easily, you shouldn’t be doing it. But mathematics requires  struggle and confusion to achieve mastery.”

Grood hoped to prepare students for learning in a way that would last with them through college.

“One of the mathematicians I admire the most, Freeman Hrabowski, often says, ‘smart simply means that you’re ready to learn.’ So my goal was to help the summer scholars get ready to learn,” said Grood

Grood felt the program was extremely successful and said that she looks forward to working with the S3P pupils in the future.

“It always makes my day when they drop by my office to say hello or when I happen to bump into them on campus.”

Dorsey, who has headed the program since it was created last year, also emphasized that she felt that last year’s program was a success.

“The inaugural summer was exhilarating … it was hard work for all the faculty, staff and students involved but, more important, it was richly rewarding. Summer scholars reported they found the program both useful and enjoyable,” said Dorsey.

She also said that the program benefited not only the students involved but also the faculty.

“Faculty members who worked in the program learned many valuable lessons. I must say I cherish the lessons the summer scholars taught me about facing challenges, about camaraderie and leadership, and about giving back.”

Four faculty members will be working with the S3P students this year. English Professor Anthony Foy will head the writing program, professor Deb Bergstrand will head the math portion, and Physics Professors Catherine Crouch and Frank Moscatelli will head the lab portion. According to Dorsey, these faculty members will attempt to create the most engaging curriculum possible for the summer cholars.

“New faculty members working in S3P are focused on creating dynamic and challenging syllabi for the lab science, writing and math courses,” said Dorsey. “

Frank Moscatelli, one of the Physics Professors involved in the lab portion of the program, said that he hoped to introduce students to some of the fundamentals of college laboratory science.

“We will address general issues of laboratory science such as how to carefully pose a scientific question, how to hypothesize, how to design an experiment to test the question, and finally how to communicate quantitative results and present uncertainties,” said Moscatelli.

In addition Moscatelli said that he and Crouch were planning to introduce the Summer Scholars to some specific real-world applications of Physics.

“We are centering the lab curriculum around areas of physics that have impact in modern medicine and the human body in general. We will study optics, for example, to understand how systems — from the human eye to a lab microscope — operate and what are their limitations.”

Moscatelli and Crouch were also planning fields trips and guest speakers for the Summer Scholars.

“We are also going to visit the Abrams Proton Cancer Therapy facility at the University of Pennsylvania. The evening will include a lecture by Dr. John Christoduleas ’98 MD followed by a tour of the facility.”

In addition to curriculum changes this year six student mentors, two for each portion of the program, were hired from the student body to work with the incoming class of summer scholars. One of the student mentors was a summer scholar themself last year.

Dorsey said that while currently the Summer Scholars program is only funded by the initial pilot fund she was confident a permanent source of funding would be secured for the Summer Scholars program.

Dorsey said discussions of an expanded scope for the program should occur at a later date.

“Any discussion of expanding the program after the pilot would be premature.”

While the faculty and students involved in the Summer Scholars program have characterized the first summer as extremely successful, it seems that the program will continue to change, at least until the program is funded permanently.

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