August 4, 2000

New Upward Bound Summer Program Emphasizes Multidisciplinary Approach to Math and Science

How do you keep low-income high school students motivated in science and math, and encourage them to aggressively pursue college degrees in these subjects? A new federally funded outreach program at the University of California, San Diego may provide insight, program officials say.

Called the Upward Bound Math and Science Program, the initiative, which emphasizes an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to the study of math and science, and includes year-round follow-up, is in the midst of completing its first summer residential session at UCSD. Its participants —44 ninth and tenth graders from San Diego and Imperial Valley— are engaged in such college-level study as molecular biology, genetics and statistics during a five-week stay on campus.

Although it is too early to tell just how much impact the program will have on long-term student motivation and academic performance, the summer component is having an immediate effect on expanding students' interest in math and science, and encouraging them to look at these disciplines in a different light, according to program representatives.

Practice in the DNA Lab – Under the watchful eye of molecular biology instructor Payam Mahboubi (second from the end), UCSD Upward Bound Science and Math students (left to right) Kate Rasmuzza of El Cajon Valley High, Linsey Stidham of Clairemont High, and Heriberto Jaquez of El Cajon Valley High practice extracting DNA from a human cell.

Funded since late 1999 through a $200,000 annual grant (given over four years) by the U.S. Department of Education, the Upward bound Math and Science Program is intended to "motivate and encourage underrepresented and low-income ninth and tenth graders to pursue degrees in math, science, computer science, and engineering —disciplines with traditional low representation among these student groups," says Eustacio "Chato" Benitez, director, TRIO Outreach Programs, an umbrella department which includes Upward Bound.

"While the summer component of the program is similar in scope to several other UCSD summer residential efforts, including our core Upward Bound Program (which has been conducting year-round tutorials for high school students for 20 years), there are some exciting differences," says Benitez.

"The new program is geared for those students expressing a specific interest in science and math as early as eighth grade," he says. "To nature that interest, the program's summer session has instituted a challenging curriculum which this year integrates the study of college-level molecular biology, statistics, computer science, critical thinking, scientific writing, and Latin—all under the common theme of genetics."

Says Brinda Rana, Ph.D., UCSD Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, who is also a program instructor and designer of the curriculum: "Genetics is a great field for using a multidiscipline approach to solve mathematical and scientific problems. Another reason for choosing the genetics theme is because we thought the recent media attention surrounding this field, with the near completion of the Human Genome Project, would be of special interest to students."

She adds: "We've integrated biology, chemistry, math and computer science into the curriculum to make students aware that it is important to have a strong background in multiple disciplines in order to excel in their chosen field." And critical thinking and Latin are included to help students understand the roots of scientific terms, thereby enhancing their clear and logical communication of science ideas.

UCSD instructors and teachers hired from K-12 schools form the faculty of the summer program, says Shawn Lawlor, program coordinator. "Our goal with the multidis-ciplinary approach is to alter the way both students and teachers view the educational process, emphasizing that each discipline is connected is connected to others and is therefore important to students' success in mastering math and science," he says. "And, I think we've been successful in accomplishing that this summer."

Students will be followed by the program throughout the year, with weekly after-school tutoring, college-prep workshops, academic counseling and other services being made available to them.

"The intent is to develop and maintain strong, personalized relationships with them as they progress academically," says Benitez, "and to hook them up with additional support mechanisms —such as mentorships, internships, scholarships and graduate school opportunities once they are accepted at UCSD." This, he maintains, serves to keep students motivated toward their science and math-related undergraduate degrees, and towards graduate school, Benitez says. "Conversely," he adds, "we've found that many students without such support tend to drop out or change their majors to non-science and non-math areas after the first year of college."

Program eligibility requirements include: students must be in the ninth or tenth grade at the time of initial acceptance, have an overall grade point average of 2.5 or higher, be low-income (as per federal guidelines) and/or have parents without a four-year college degree, and express an initial interest in pursing a career in math, science, computer science, or engineering.

High Schools represented among this year's participants are: (San Diego) - Monte Vista, El Cajon Valley, Clairemont, Castle park; and (Imperial Valley) - Brawley, Calipatria, and Central.

For more information on the Upward Bound Math and Science Program, please call 858-534-4251.

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