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University Wins $1.25 Million for Upward Bound

Program bolsters math and science learning of local high schoolers

More than a quarter of Massachusetts high school students flunked a statewide science exam last spring. Equally discouraging, according to a report released last month by the state Department of Education, were numbers showing that dozens of urban high schools across the state registered a failure rate of 50 percent or higher on the test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

Despite those numbers, Ruth Shane, director of the BU/Boston Public Schools Collaborative Office, is hopeful. Shane believes that the new Boston University Upward Bound Math-Science program will improve the scores of 50 students from Boston area public schools. “We know we’re not going to make a significant dent in any high school’s achievement in science,” she says, “but for those 50 participants, it will make a difference.”

BU was recently awarded one of 110 national Upward Bound Math-Science grants, issued by the U.S. Department of Education. The University, whose proposal scored among the top 10 percent, will receive $1.25 million over five years. Led jointly by representatives from the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, Upward Bound Math-Science will serve 50 students recruited from Brighton High School, Charlestown High School, and Chelsea High School.

The Upward Bound Math-Science program is part of Upward Bound, one of eight federally funded TRIO programs, which are educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For the past 18 years, Boston University has participated in Upward Bound, a college preparatory program for potential first-generation college and low-income high school students. Upward Bound projects provide academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages, as well as tutoring, counseling, mentoring, cultural enrichment, and work-study programs. While classic Upward Bound focuses on general preparation for college, Upward Bound Math-Science will help students recognize and develop their potential to excel in math and science and encourage them to pursue postsecondary degrees in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“As a nation, we recognize we’re not preparing students from lower incomes and underrepresented backgrounds for careers in math and science,” says Michael Dennehy (CAS’92), program director of BU’s Upward Bound. “Upward Bound Math-Science represents our effort to be more egalitarian in our quest to find people to enter those fields.” 

The grant will complement the University’s existing Upward Bound program and leverage programs organized by the Boston University Learning Resource Network (LERNet), a resource center and clearinghouse for the many faculty at BU currently running educational and enrichment activities for middle-school and high-school students. Its purpose is to share the University’s resources with precollege students and stimulate their interest in various academic disciplines.

“There’s great concern that we’re not producing enough high school graduates who go on to major in the STEM fields,” Dennehy says. “In order to sustain our global competitiveness, we need to have more homegrown students who enter those fields.”

Collectively, the Upward Bound programs will serve 125 high school students. The Math-Science program will provide students with opportunities to participate in hands-on and exploratory science activities, work in research labs, and learn about careers in science. During the summer, students will complete an intensive six-week academic residential program. All services are based on the BU campus.

Throughout the academic year, Upward Bound Math-Science students will work closely with graduate students participating in the GK12 initiative, a program that provides science-focused Arts and Sciences graduate students with teaching fellowships in local high schools and classic Upward Bound programs. “This will be great training for both our graduate students and our high school students,” says Bennett Goldberg, physics department chair and Upward Bound Math-Science co–principal investigator. “After all, education is not only about teaching in the graduate and undergraduate levels. It’s about teaching at all ages and levels of society.”  

“The plan is for all participants to go to college,” Shane says. “It doesn’t matter whether they pursue degrees in math and science, but we’re hopeful that they will. At the very least, they must have a developed interest in math and science to be accepted into the program.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.