In an effort to raise the number of women and minorities in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) invites area high school students to participate in a summer internship that not only teaches them the wonders of technology, but also gives them an inside view of life on a college campus.
The program is called the Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program (SECOP). Now in its seventh year, the outreach venture has had 100 percent of its graduates go on to study at the university level.
The Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program “showed me what engineering was like, and what college was all about,” says Leslie Wall, who went through the program in 2003 and graduated from LMU this spring. She is now the program’s assistant director.
“It inspired me to do my own research and to consider the possibilities,” says Wall. “I think that I had just as much fun as a student as I am having now as an assistant director in the program,” she added.
Wall remembers the obstacles that she faced as one of the only African American and female students in the program when she took part in the outreach plan.
“It was a little intimidating at times,” she admitted. “It was one of those challenges in life that I learned to overcome. But I enjoyed it. It was a great experience.”
Ashley Brumfield, another alumna of the outreach program, says, “As part of the Young Black Scholars program in high school, I was chosen for SECOP, and being at LMU for two weeks gave me a new perspective on what I wanted to do and what college was all about. And it gave me the confidence to know I could achieve my goals.”
This year, 29 students from eight Los Angeles area schools, including Westchester High School, participated in the intensive two-week project on campus that focused on teaching advanced studies in math and science.
The students who participated in the program were given hands-on instruction in engineering, and assigned the task of building a robot.
On the last day of the program, Friday, July 20th, students took their final tests and afterward enjoyed a lunch of pizza and drinks with their mentors. Later that afternoon, they presented their projects to the engineering faculty.
JosÈ Gomez of the California Treasurer’s Office, representing state treasurer Bill Lockyer, arrived on campus from Sacramento to present a check to LMU for $83,500 that will go toward enrolling new students next year.
“Loyola’s Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program provides an excellent service to students in the community,” Lockyer said in a statement. “California’s future will depend on another generation of scientists and engineers to stay competitive in the global marketplace.
“This program addresses that need by exposing underprivileged youngsters to these essential skills and encourages them to seek college degrees in math and science.”
“One of the best things about this program is that we get to bring in bright, talented students who can get to see what science and engineering are all about, sparking that creative gene in them and have them go back to high school energized about science and technology,” said Richard Plum, dean of LMU’s Frank Seaver College of Science and Engineering. “Technology is a leading driver of our economy and, historically, science and technology has appealed to a very small class of people.
“What we need to do is to broaden (SECOP) to underrepresented students into these fields,” Plum continued. “And that’s what SECOP is all about.”
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Oliver Adams, who will be a senior at Westchester High School in September and who plans to major in mechanical engineering. “It was a lot of fun, and it was a good experience working with a group instead of by yourself.”
Case Walker is also a student at Westchester High School who attended the outreach program. He contrasted the difference between high school and college.
“In high school, you’re expected to do everything a certain way, including taking notes,” he explained. “Here it was more individualized, and you were allowed to be yourself.”
Another advantage of being on campus with college professors and LMU alumni for Walker was learning time management.
Spending time on a college campus also gave the students the experience of living in a dormitory and provided a glimpse, albeit short-term, of what college life entails.
“It’s a good experience of what college is about,” said Adams. “As a high-school student, you don’t get this kind of opportunity.”
The two-week classroom immersion teaches potential engineering students additional intangibles that are critical to succeed- ing at the university level beyond the academic requirements, says Barbara Christie, director of the program.
“(Engineering) is a very difficult curriculum once you get to college, and you have to have that emotional attachment to it,” Christie said. “You have to work very hard to be successful, and that’s what we try to get the kids to realize.
“Because they’re at such a young age, they’re very impressionable, and you can really shape them and make their decision to study engineering very feasible.”
Wall, who will begin her career as a civil engineer next month in Los Angeles, wasn’t sure about what career she wanted to pursue prior to participating in LMU’s student outreach venture.
“I really didn’t know much about engineering until I got here,” she said. “I’ve always liked building things, and through the program I found a love for civil engineering.”
Participating in the science and engineering program convinced Wall, who is from Chino, to apply for admission to the university.
“SECOP really inspired me to want to come to LMU,” said the program’s assistant director. “The beauty of the campus and the experience of working with the staff and the professors also attracted me. It really felt like home.”
“It’s really rewarding to watch the students grow up from coming in as sophomores and juniors in high school to graduating,” said Christie. “That’s what college is about — seeing the success story. It’s lovely to see that end product.”