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Benedum grant funds program to help rising 9th graders in Fayette County

5/9/2008 —

“Science Forensics: An Academic Pathway in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” enters its second year this summer at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, thanks to a $229,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation. The goal of the Science Forensics program over the next four years is to assist approximately 125 rising 9th graders with grades of C or D in math and English. The program was initiated in 2007 as a way to combat a deficit of students graduating from high school proficient in math and science.

Penn State Fayette Chancellor Emmanuel Osagie says, “Compared to other nations in our now global village, the U.S. graduates fewer students in science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM). It is vital that we motivate youngsters to learn science and math, in part to meet the growing demand for the technical workforce that continues to emerge right here in Fayette County, but also to help ensure our region’s youth can take advantage of a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics secondary-education opportunities when they graduate from high school. Our Science Forensics program is designed to do just that.”

Benedum Foundation supports Science Forensics program

The Benedum Foundation awarded Penn State Fayette a $229,000 grant to fund Science Forensics for 2008-2010. The project goal is to enroll two new cohorts of students—groups of 50 each year—and the recruitment and training of at least six college faculty and school teachers to teach Science Forensics.

Dr. James Denova, vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation explains, “We believe that this kind of outreach is critical to engaging often underrepresented students in STEM occupations. It provides inspiration and excitement about learning, and connects students to higher education in a way that is relevant to their lives and interests.”

Osagie adds, “The support of this program by the Benedum Foundation is illustrative of how important the education of our youth is to the Foundation. It is a mission the Foundation and Penn State Fayette shares. We are honored by this partnership with the Benedum Foundation.”

Science Forensics offers something different for rising 9th graders

What makes Science Forensics different than other “summer camps” for high school students? A number of things: the year-round programming; the intentional, guided intervention of the target population of students who are less likely to matriculate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); the opportunity for students to earn stipends for attendance and participation in the camp and in the once-a-month Saturday Academy during the year; the opportunity to dual-enroll at Penn State Fayette in a STEM-course; the opportunity to intern at a STEM related business the summer after high school graduation; and the opportunity for early admission and some financial assistance to attend Penn State Fayette for Science Forensics students who intend to major in and graduate with a STEM-related degree.

The summer camp component of Science Forensics is a three-week session. This year two options are offered for new students: one in June and another in July. New students participate in a series of modules specially designed for them. Returning students already enrolled in the program will participate in a July session that builds on what they have already learned through the program. A combination of instructional and activity modules make Science Forensics an interactive process that the students really like. Breakfast and lunch are provided for the students.

Continuing throughout the academic year, while Science Forensics students go to high school, they also participate in eight weekend sessions. Penn State student tutors provide on-campus tutoring on an ongoing basis for any of the students who may have difficulties with math, science or English. Nicole Perret, professor of mathematics and the coordinator of the Science Forensics program, explains, “We believe this approach of an intensive three-week camp and year-round follow-up sessions, including tutors, is crucial in sustaining the academic support and guidance we want to provide to help these students move their math and English grades from Cs and Ds to As and Bs.”

Students who are currently completing 9th grade now with a grade of C or D in math and English are eligible to enroll in the Science Forensics program. There is no fee for eligible students to attend Science Forensics, and breakfast and lunch are provided at no cost. For more information, parents and guidance counselors or prospective student participants should contact Penn State Fayette’s Continuing Education Office at 724-430-4211.

Teachers also being sought for Science Forensics program

Another component of the Science Forensics program is focused training for select area high school teachers in early June. The Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (CASE) will provide a best practices workshop that promotes STEM inquiry and design teaching and learning using the Materials World Modules Program developed by a National Science Foundation grant to Northwestern University in Illinois. CASE’s curriculum uses the latest technology and cutting-edge best practices to better prepare teachers for the 21st-century classroom. Penn State has selected the Sports Materials module for the summer workshop.  

CASE Director of Training Dr. Nancy Priselac says numerous reports looking at the condition of U.S. middle and high school science and mathematics point to “the necessity for a re-focus on STEM subjects, if the country is going to maintain its position as a world leader in opportunity and innovation.”  

CASE Lead Instructor Stu Schultz will direct the teacher training at Penn State Fayette.  A former teacher of physics and chemistry, Schultz has received such accolades as the Presidential Award in Math and Science, Milken Family Foundation Award and the Disney Channel Salute to the American Teacher. Most recently, he prepared middle and high school teachers in San Diego, to implement the Sports Materials Module into their classrooms.  

Dr. Stephen Priselac, CASE executive director, says, “We are glad to have this opportunity to work in Fayette County. And, it’s especially exciting to be partnering with such a fine institution as Penn State.”  

Local high school teachers interested in participating in this free, three-day CASE training program June 5-7 (counts towards Act 48 credits) should contact Nicole Perret at 724-430-4269.

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