Exposure to the Possibilities

Every year, Patsy Williamson takes a few of her students more than 200 miles from Lake City, South Carolina, to Clemson University, where students from nine rural, largely minority high schools and middle schools tour the campus, meet scientists, visit labs, and talk to college students. The trip involves a four-hour bus ride each way and a biology achievement test once they get there, but Williamson’s students fight for the chance to visit a college campus, most for the first time.

“They find out a lot about possibilities, about opportunities, what kind of jobs you might be able to get. And when they see [Lake City graduates] there they realize ‘I can get there too,’” Williamson says. “These kids are really poor, but they are good kids. This is the best teaching experience I’ve had.”

Barbara Speziale, who directs HHMI’s science education program at Clemson, was inspired to help rural students and teachers by the grim reality facing South Carolina: only 14 percent of South Carolina-born state residents have bachelor’s degrees, and the state ranks 48th in the percentage of ninth graders who graduate from high school within five years and go on to college. As the tobacco farming and textile manufacturing industries have declined, the problems in the state have gotten worse. “I have visited many of these rural communities,” Speziale says. “In some, there is no opportunity as far as the eye can see.”

A visit to Clemson during high school changed Satoya Murray’s path. She grew up in Clio, South Carolina, a former textile town with a population of less than 1,000. “It definitely got me more interested in science, seeing all of the opportunities that they had to offer,” says Murray, now a junior majoring in biological and health science at Clemson and the first in her family to go to college. After her visit, she thought, “Man, this is like a whole new world. A world you definitely want to be a part of.”

-- Andrea Widener
HHMI Bulletin, November 2010

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