Clemson University wants middle and high school students to think about going to college—and about majoring in science when they get there.
Many of South Carolina’s middle and high school students need support to interest them in college and prepare them for the high-level work required there. “Clemson [University] is up in the northwest corner of the state, far away from some of the neediest schoolchildren,” who live in the southern part of the state, says biology professor and HHMI program director Barbara Speziale.
But Clemson wants those students to think about going to college—and about majoring in science when they get there. With its new HHMI grant, the university will continue its multipronged approach, which includes training for teachers in grades K–12, campus visits for middle and high schoolers, and research experiences for talented high school students, to make sure the message reaches as many students as possible. “We want to give the kids something to aspire to and show them a pathway to get there.”
Clemson targets middle and high school students from low-income, rural schools, including several with large numbers of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. With part of its grant, the university brings 200 students to campus each year for two-day visits during which they take lessons in molecular biology in up-to-date research labs and learn about the many science disciplines. They may also be experiencing a university campus and meeting professors for the first time. Since 1998, 1,746 middle and high school students have participated in this program, and more than 330 students have gone on to college. Speziale hopes to continue to encourage more students to pursue higher education.
Clemson will also continue a popular program that brings high school teachers to the university to take graduate-level science classes taught by active researchers. “Teachers can get education courses pretty easily once they’re teaching, but it’s been hard for them to get biology and other science courses,” Speziale says. Since the program started in 1998, 816 teachers and 70 teachers in training have participated in 103 graduate courses, ranging from forensic science to histology to the natural history of South Carolina. Science is constantly changing, Speziale points out, and high school teachers need training to keep them and their students up to date.