Having a conversation with Laurie Leshin

Conversation with the President

President Leshin Talks Summer Programs with Sue Sontgerath

June 28, 2017
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For more than 20 years, Frontiers and Camp Reach have welcomed middle and high school students to campus; for the past 10 years elementary school students have been added to the mix of STEM and athletic offerings. These popular programs boost interest in STEM, expose children and their families to WPI, and bolster learning on and off the field. President Leshin spoke with Sue Sontgerath, director of Pre-collegiate Outreach Programs, to help our readers understand just how important these programs are to the future of WPI.

LL: Summer programs are such a key component of what we do here at WPI. People think we serve just undergraduates and grad students, but we start them young here, don’t we?

SS: Yes! It's exciting to see WPI give these opportunities to over 800 students in the summer STEM programs alone, and about 1,000 in our sports programs. We give them a taste of what WPI life is really like by offering them project-based learning and hands-on tasks, and exposing them to teamwork they might not get in a traditional school setting. We give them an opportunity to discover their passions and, hopefully, continue down the STEM pipeline.

LL: And we know these programs really do feed our student body—and STEM more broadly, something we’re also passionate about.

SS: We recognize that not every student who goes through our programs will end up at WPI, but our hope is that they will end up in STEM somewhere. Professor Chrys Demetry and I just finished a quasi-experimental study on the Camp Reach program, and what we’re seeing is that the girls who come to Camp Reach vs. the girls in the control group are matriculating at WPI at a statistically higher rate.

LL: It’s proof that being here on the campus and having those experiences is such a meaningful and transformative experience for those young people. Especially as we’re trying to diversify the pipeline that’s coming in: more women, more underrepresented students of color. I think these summer programs are so critical to help them see themselves at WPI or at a place like it.

SS: It’s very important that we continue to look at the right opportunity for these students. Developing programming that is specific for girls, for example, because girls still have a harder time seeing themselves in STEM roles. Giving participants an opportunity to be with peers who are like-minded and enjoy the same types of things will hopefully build self-efficacy and their interest in STEM.

LL: You mentioned Chrys Demetry, one of our leading faculty members—there are a lot of professors who get involved in these summer programs, right?

SS: We have about 60 faculty members and as many graduate and undergraduate students who work with the participants. This work requires a passion and willingness to give of their time in the summer, when they could be doing other things like research or vacationing.

LL: Our participation for both athletics and STEM programs extends beyond our Central Mass area, right?

SS: Typically, we see representation from 20 to 25 states and roughly 10 international locations in summer programs alone. This year we’ve implemented the Summer Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to students of the Worcester Public Schools. We have 16 students participating in the program at varying levels, and our hope is to maintain these students, and offer them scholarships for as many years as they want to come back. It's our hope to inspire them, and eventually see them choose WPI when it comes time for college.

LL: Great talking with you, Sue, and thanks for all you do to bring the next generation to WPI!