Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

‘Making of a Scientist’ program offers teens college credits

The University of Denver recently offered students from across the country a taste of college life, a start on their college careers and an intensive jump start on a future in mathematics, computers and science through the Making of a Scientist program.

Julanna Gilbert, a DU chemistry professor and director of the DU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, says the program, in its fifth year, is a collaborative effort by the University, faculty and communities across the country that help attract gifted students who may not have been considering college.

“These kids are incredible to work with. They see this as a real opportunity,” Gilbert says. “They learn what a college experience would be like, and they really work hard.”

This June, 43 juniors and seniors — including a group from Memphis supported by local civic leaders and several from Southern California supported by a local migrant worker support group — took part in two weeks of intense classroom work, which earned them three college credits. Days were packed with lectures, group problem-solving sessions and research with DU professors.

The Making of a Scientist program started as an offshoot from the University’s Making of an Engineer summer program. This year, that program morphed into a two-week session called Engineering of Extreme Sports, exposing high school students to the math and engineering that goes into such extreme activities as bungee jumping and robotic combat.

But Gilbert says all along she’s had a passion to keep the Making of a Scientist going strong on its own. Students in the program are treated like young scientists, and they are challenged at every turn. Success depends on plenty of hard work and classroom learning.

Students are issued laptop computers at no cost for use throughout the session. They meet regularly with professors to delve into how mathematics and computers truly meld with research science and lead to important discoveries.

And the coursework is anything but light fare.

Classes include the study of modular arithmetic, number theory and cryptography — all concepts in discrete mathematics, the basis for computer science. In addition, the students are exposed to computer programming and design algorithms that are converted to computer programs.

They learn about designing computer programs that collect and analyze data in the chemistry laboratory, where they use sophisticated computer models to make predictions about chemical structures.

“It has such a wonderful impact for the students involved,” Gilbert says.

And in addition to learning new skills and gaining confidence, students also take part in intimate discussions about scientific ethics and the importance of reputation and honesty in the field. At the end of the course, students make 10-minute PowerPoint presentations on ethics to share with their classmates.

For students accepted into the program, there is no tuition charge from DU, and organizers work with groups in the students’ communities to help defray or even completely cover the cost of room and board in most cases. In some special cases, students who don’t have the resources find extra assistance to pay for transportation to DU.

Gilbert says after this year’s session, she is excited for the future of Making of a Scientist, and looks forward to continued improvements.


Comments are closed.