Math, science open to minorities through SAMS

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by Candice M. Arnold
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Many students hope to attend prestigious colleges or universities like Harvard, Stanford or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some are lucky enough to go because their parents can afford it or because they were lucky enough to earn coveted scholarships. But there’s more to earning a place at a prestigious college than financial wherewithal.

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DAMIAN DOURADO TALKS TO A STUDENT.

“The Lord knows that many underrepresented minorities have trouble entering top colleges or universities because of standardized test scores,” said North Braddock native and Carnegie Mellon University Summer Academy for Math Science program alum, Kyle Campbell. “I truly thank God for the ability to gain knowledge in how to take the test. I have seen a few alumni, including myself, cry over this opportunity because they knew they could not afford to take SAT PREP courses.”

Since 2000, CMU has welcomed underrepresented minorities, i.e. African-American, Hispanic and Native-American students join the SAMS program to improve their math and science skills and prepare them for the SAT, both of which greatly improve their chances of getting into schools like Yale, Cornell or the California Institute of Technology.

The SAMS program was “the brainchild” of then CMU vice president for enrollment, Bill Elliot, who thought that the university “needed to do something to grow a greater population of talented ethnic minority students who go to highly selective colleges and universities and who end up majoring in math and science, thus engineering or careers in science and technology,” said Wilkinsburg native, Damian Dourado, who is the assistant director of the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center.

“We started the program to make good students excellent,” Dourado added.

SAMS is a six-week residential program that is open to high school students who are either entering their junior or senior years and are at least 15 years old. There’s no fee for students to join the program, but according Campbell, they do have to pay for the books they use. Of the 800 students who have completed the SAMS program, 83, so far, have enrolled at CMU.

Although the program—originally headed by Elliot, Dourado, Gloria Hill, who actually ran the SAMS program, and Ty Walton, the current director of CMARC—targets underrepresented minorities, particularly in the Pittsburgh area, it is open to students of all races and it’s marketed nationally through FastWeb. They market themselves locally by visiting area schools. Word of mouth, said Dourado, during an interview in his office, is the best form of advertising.

“Each year, since 2006, I [have] identified students who may benefit from the program and I encouraged them to apply. This program is not hype it actually helps develop you into a collegiate student,” said Campbell, who graduated from CMU with a bachelor of science degree in computer science.

Monroeville native and current CMU student, Jettie Fields thinks the program does more than help students improve their SAT scores and skills in math and science. She heard about the program from her mother and although math and science aren’t her “forte”— she’s a freshman, majoring in international relations—she knew that her skills in those areas would continue to improve if she attended, so she decided to enroll.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Fields, who is a graduate of the Ellis School. “It’s a little taste of college. Nobody’s going to tell you to get your work done. You have to have a drive to get your work done. It’s a good taste of what college life is actually like.”

Although students don’t have to be interested in careers in math, science, engineering or technology, the SAMS program is geared toward them. One thing that Walton, a St. Louis native who’s been living in Pittsburgh for 25 years, wants students who are interested in participating to understand is that the SAMS program is not “an access program.” It’s a program for students “who already intend to enroll in college who want to “strengthen their math and science skills and improve their SAT scores enough” to increase the odds of attending prestigious schools like Dartmouth or Cornell.

“We want students to realize that math and science can be fun and engaging but we also want them to know that it’s hard work. It takes tenacity to excel in these areas,” Walton stressed.

SAMS, which is funded by the Eden Hall Foundation and companies like Lockheed Martin, Motorola and Siemens Corp., has many goals, not the least of which is to increase the number of students who attend. In the summer of 2010, 70 students participated. When the program started in 2000, there were 100.

(Students and parents who would like more information about SAMS can visit Carnegie Mellon’s website at http://www.cmu.edu)

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