Today’s 8th graders are tomorrow’s scientists

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Throughout his time in office, President Barack Obama has identified growth in science, technology, engineering and math as a key solution to economic recovery. In his announcement of the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching April 28, Obama reiterated his administration’s commitment to investment in STEM fields.

PittsburghPromise
PITTSBURGH’S PROMISE—Pittsburgh Science and Technology students Kevin Williams and Senque Little-Poole are well on their way to achieving their goals. (Photo by Rebecca Nuttall)

“The teachers we honor today have demonstrated uncommon skill and devotion in the classroom, nurturing the young minds of tomorrow’s science and math leaders,” Obama said. “America’s competitiveness rests on the excellence of our citizens in technical fields, and we owe these teachers a debt of gratitude for strengthening America’s prosperity.”

Two Pittsburgh Public School district students have answered Obama’s call with their acceptance into the STEMPREP Project, the nation’s number one training program for STEM fields. Eighth-grade students Senque Little-Poole and Kevin Williams, who attend Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, are the second group of Pittsburgh residents to be accepted into the program in 20 years.

“When I was little, I really liked insects and as I got older, that interest grew. I really like investigating,” Little-Poole said. “I like science, which is why I’m at this school. I want to do things in the medical science field. I like investigating things and answering questions.”

The STEMPREP Project is a ten-summer program that will follow the minority students into their high school career and throughout college. Through the program they will be exposed to a variety of sectors in the STEM fields including academia, government, private research institutes and the pharmaceutical industry.

“It’s a new opportunity to further develop my skills in computers,” Williams said. “I really like computers. Science intrigues me, makes me want to learn more. When I was 10 or 11, I found a computer game that really interested me and then I just started getting more interested.”

As African-American males, both students said they understand the significance of their accomplishments in a society where Black males are more likely to go to prison than earn a college degree. They are also aware of the positive impact their future work in the STEM fields can have.

“At every time period there’s something that people are really affected by,” Little-Poole said. “Right now it’s cancer and with all the technology people are looking for answers and solutions.”

“I’m interested in studying DNA through computers,” Williams said. “Most of these diseases could be solved if people knew more about the biology of humans.”

Each summer the students will receive training at lab facilities in colleges and universities nationally and abroad. The Pittsburgh students will have the opportunity to meet with some of the 400 students who participate in the program annually.

“I’ve never really worked in a lab setting before so when I get there I can see a professional setting and see if it’s really what I want to do,” Little-Poole said. “I think it’s kind of cool to meet new people in new environments and you kind of see how you compare.”

In 1990, the Distance Learning Center developed the STEMPREP Project to find and train a national pool of underrepresented minority junior high students. Over the last 20 years, the STEMPREP Project has demonstrated a high rate of success with 88 percent of the college seniors going onto post-baccalaureate programs, and 92 percent trainees completing the 10-year program.

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