By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
The Upward Bound Math and Science PRISM program (UBMS) wrapped up their six-week summer academic camp on July 2 after building radios and boats, taking an architecture design course, and touring the state capitol building, all in pursuit of an enriched STEM education.
The program focuses on preparing low-income and first-generation college bound students for success in higher education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The program is part of the federally funded TRIO programs, and has been in place since 1999.
UBMS recruits students from Brainerd High School and Howard High School, working closely with math and science teachers, as well as guidance counselors, to find out which students are interested in math and science.
“Our main focus is preparing students for STEM degrees, so we want kids who really enjoy math and science classes. Even if they are struggling in school, if they really enjoy those subjects, those are the ones we want in the program,” said Kristina McClure, Project Specialist for UBMS.
During the academic school year, UBMS goes to the schools twice per week to work with students. There are also Saturday sessions twice per month on campus for those students who are falling behind in their coursework. Also offered are tutoring, test preparation courses, and classes for students and their families to learn more about the college admissions and financial aid processes. Students from their freshman to senior year in high school are eligible to participate, and remain in the program until graduation. After graduation, they participate in a bridge program to assist in preparing for life as a college student.
“Because of the community we work with, a lot of them don’t understand what college means, so being here at UTC, they are constantly around the campus throughout the year. So they get used to going to the University Center and eating in the cafeteria, the more diverse campus, and the feel of college life,” said McClure.
As a part of the summer portion of the program, students participate in an academic camp, living on campus and taking classes to simulate a college experience.
“Because they are first generation college bound students, we want to familiarize them with what college is like, so they feel more comfortable with the idea,” said McClure.
The first week consists of an orientation, where parents come with the students to discuss what staying on campus will be like. This year also consisted of a tour of the Blue Cross Blue Shield facility, where the CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare Program spoke with the students.
“They got to meet with professionals to talk about what it’s like to work at BCBS, what kind of education you need, and how important that degree is,” said McClure.
“Most people have such narrow perceptions of STEM careers,” said Twyler Boykin, Program Director of UBMS. “They think, ‘I want to be a nurse or a doctor,’ and that’s fine, but we want to expand on their perceptions. For example, if a student is really good at math but isn’t as strong in science, maybe they could still work in a doctor’s office as the business manager who runs the office. We really want to expose them to more ways to use math and science and encourage those future careers.”
This year, students moved into the dorms in Stagmaeir Hall and took classes in math, science, and English, as well as additional subjects like architectural design. They constructed radios, built boats that they raced in the classrooms, and created and floated a hot air balloon to demonstrate principles of air density.
“We try to give them a varied amount of classes, for enrichment, not remediation, and to expose them to various STEM fields,” said Boykin.
“We had students who were learning to draw and use different tools, and she introduced this area of study that these students had not ever come in contact with,” said McClure.
They also completed hands-on research projects with faculty on campus.
“We really want our students to have that research background,” said Boykin. “So whether it’s English or Algebra, there is a research component combined into that class, so that they’re not only learning the steps of algebra or what have you, they are learning how to take it into the real world, how do you research it in real life. When they’re here, they’re being exposed to a little bit more than they might be in their high school, to really turn that light on or light that fire, to get them to think, ‘I never really thought of math and science in this way before.’”
University professors and Hamilton County school teachers lead the classes, which expand upon the students’ high school curriculum to enrich their education.
“We’re not focused on remediation so much as enrichment,” said McClure. “We want to expose these kids to different styles of learning and possible careers they didn’t know about. We want to create an excitement about the STEM curriculum so that it may motivate the students to want to succeed and work harder, to want to see themselves in a math or science field when they’re older.”
The classes aren’t dumbed down, however. The camp is meant to simulate the college lifestyle, and students are expected to attend classes throughout the week.
“The curriculum they are participating in is pretty rigorous. They have to learn that aspect of time management. Our classes are spread across campus, so they get used to the idea of having to get themselves to this place at this time. They have to get used to the classes. They want to come and have fun, but at the same time there is work to be done,” said McClure.
Students receive a small stipend for their participation in the program, but many still have to work while they participate.
“A lot of these students have jobs, and they’re working not just for spending money, but to pay family bills. They have to schedule their work around our program, or they have to work night shifts once they are done. I think that really shows the dedication of these students,” said McClure.
The end of every year in the UBMS program culminates in a cultural enrichment trip to learn more about job opportunities, the city’s history, and application of STEM in the city. This has included trips to Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Atlanta, GA; and Detroit, MI, among others.
“We are not only trying to get them excited about math and science, we are also trying to expand their world view,” said McClure. “A lot of these students don’t get out of Chattanooga, maybe not even their neighborhoods.”
This year, students visited Nashville where they toured the Nashville Zoo, the Agricultural Museum, the Hermitage, the Parthenon, Tennessee State University, the State Capitol, and the Tennessee State Museum.
UBMS also partners with local organizations to offer students the opportunity to get work experience. This year, UBMS partnered with the Challenger STEM Learning Center and the Chattanooga Zoo.
“Our goal is to graduate these students not only from high school, but from their postsecondary degrees as well. We can’t have the same hands on approach with those students once they graduate high school, but we try to make sure we are giving them the strong foundation that they need – the study skills, the test taking skills – that will help them be more successful in college completion,” said McClure. “We don’t actively track the students in college, but they come back and see us. The trust is there enough that they know they can come to us and ask for help if they need it.”