The Elmhurst College Math & Science Academy has returned after a one-year hiatus—rebranded as the EC STEM Academy, with an emphasis on data analysis and an interdisciplinary approach.
Math professor Evans Afenya launched the summer program 20 years ago to give high school juniors and seniors a taste of the college experience. The academy aims to engage students from underrepresented groups “to plant the seed that they can go to college,” said co-director and biology professor Paul Arriola.
Budget constraints required the Academy to take a break last year, and the directors used the time to take stock of the way the program was organized. They changed the name so that it’s more in keeping with the contemporary term used to refer to the quantitative fields of science, technology, engineering and math. “We were doing STEM all along,” Afenya said.
This year the 10-day program was made up of 18 students, some from California, Texas, New Jersey and Ohio. The curriculum included classes in math, chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, and coaching in writing and preparation for college entrance exams. “The students get a clear view of where they want to end up,” Afenya said.
Students this year used data analysis tools in research that crossed several disciplines. In one experiment, students compared the effectiveness of conventional cleaning products with newer green competitors—an exercise that incorporated biology and chemistry and required math in the gathering and analysis of the results, Arriola said.
The students were supported by a team of three mentors who lived with them in the dorm. One is Myrtle Castro ’14, who attended the program as a high school student from Des Plaines, Illinois, and worked as the lead mentor for the past several years. “I like seeing the spark when the students understand a concept and then turn around and help others” said Castro, who plans to pursue a career as a history teacher. “It’s a beautiful circle.”
Rising high school junior Fantah Kabba of Romeoville, Illinois, said she has appreciated getting a feel for college life. “It’s challenging,” said Kabba, who wants to pursue a career in data analysis. “You have to be motivated.”
“I tell them it’s about progression, not perfection,” Castro said. “You’ll get a taste of how college kids don’t sleep, because there’s always something to do.”