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White House awards GSP

By Carolin Scholz

The Grinnell Science Project (GSP) was awarded with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring last week.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden presented the award to Professor Jim Swartz, Chemistry, Director of the Center for Science in the Liberal Arts in a ceremony at the White House last week.

The National Science Foundation’s prize recognized Grinnell’s effort to remodel the teaching of science by reaching out to traditionally underrepresented groups. Founded in 1992, the program aims to transform science at Grinnell.

“We were pretty unusual in being a complete and systemic reform of a college’s or university’s science program”, said Professor Mark Schneider, Physics, Director and co-founder of GSP.

The Grinnell Science Project was founded to transform science and make it more accessible to traditionally disadvantaged groups, by creating a pre-orientation program along with substantial curriculum changes.

“GSP involves a lot of things [about which] present students would just say, ‘Well, that’s the way things are at Grinnell,’” Schneider said.

Workshop-style classes in Physics, Chemistry or classes such as Bio-150, an introductory class centered on student research, grew out of GSP. Familiar structures such as the Science Learning Center have come out of GSP in order to broaden access to tutoring and peer-mentoring. The Science Learning Center provides group learning spaces and individual tutoring upon request. The best known part of GSP remains however the Pre-orientation program.

“[It] targets students who are underrepresented in the Science. So for us this mostly includes students of color, first-generation college students and women interested in Mathematics, Computer Science or Physics,” Schneider said. Each year approximately 80 students are invited and about half of these students attend the program, according to Schneider.

By bringing the students to campus before school starts, the program hopes to ease the transition from high school and college.

“One of the thing we try to show them in a week are all the resources that are available to them and the community,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Elaine Marzluff. “So they are aware of the Science Learning Center aware of the Math Lab, that help is available.”

“Simply to meet each other is important,” Schneider said. Various activities such as a mini-library research project or the laboratory experience are designed to show students that a lot of science is not done alone. In addition to faculty advisors, students who attend GSP are guided by student assistants, former GSP-attendees.

“We give them a scavenger hunt so they learn to find their way without us, we also go to the State Fair. This year we challenged the students to find pictures of science-related things [at the state fair],” said Brenna Ross ’13, a Physics and Theatre double-major, who also served as a student assistant this past summer.

“On occasion [the students I’ve mentored talk to me], it’s not always about teachers and school…they just ask me for help with life, so it’s just like a life mentor on occasion,” said Quinton Banks ’13, who also served as a student assistant this summer.

Even though the majority of former GSP-attendees do end up majoring in a science, its not an obligation. “We certainly don’t require [that the students major in science]. We hope students come in and find something there are passionate about and really I would say that my goal is, [to show them] that if they want to major in science it’s available for them,” Marzluff said.

“I decided to do GSP because in high school I really loved science and always doubled on both science and math, and I came to Grinnell intending to do a science major,” said Addie Anderson ’13. Anderson is now a Russian major with a Russian, Central and Eastern European Studies Concentration, but she is still interested in the hard sciences.

Other schools have developed programs similar to GSP, a sign of its innovation.

“We had recognition more of the perspective of people coming in…and shadow us for a week, Bowdoin College has done that, so they have a very similar program,” Marzluff said.

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