Pa. Governor’s School for the Sciences revived by state, alumni

January 18, 2013

Gov. Tom Corbett announced Tuesday the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh would be revived this summer thanks to a state grant and matching funds from private donations.

Launched in 1982, the five-week program provides academically talented high school students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the sciences through cooperative learning and hands-on laboratory research. The school was discontinued in 2009 due to budget cuts under the previous administration and remained shelved until now.

This summer, 56 students from across the state will be given the opportunity to live on campus while attending rigourous classes in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. The program is part of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools for Excellence, which provided classes in the arts and science at a handful of universities statewide to bright students at no charge prior to being defunded.

“Intensive learning and practical skills that lead to careers in the sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology are critical to Pennsylvania’s long-term economic success,” Corbett said. “This program provides a pathway for students to secure high-paying jobs and affirms my commitment to ensuring Pennsylvania’s students have access to high-quality educational programs.”

Students selected for the program will receive full scholarships for housing, meals and all instructional materials that are paid for by a $150,000 state grant and matching funds through donations from alumni, parents and corporations.

Maureen Ryan, executive director of PGSS Campaign, a nonprofit affiliated with the program’s alumni association, said the ongoing conversations that the organization maintained with the governor’s office, state Department of Education and local legislators over the past four years were an important part in the quest for funding. She said the program’s alumni have provided the majority of the matching share, which also saw contributions from a number of companies, including PPG Industries in Pittsburgh and Teva Pharmaceuticals near Philadelphia.

“The board of directors was very active in locating alumni and getting donations,” Ryan said.

Ben Campbell, a 1997 alumnus and PGSS Campaign vice president, who taught at the school for four years as a teaching assistant and joined the faculty in 2005, said one of his former students was the driving force behind a website that raised nearly $40,000 for the program. The student, Campbell revealed, had worked as a high-volume trader on Wall Street and had some time on her hands after retiring before the age of 30.

An assistant professor at Robert Morris University in Moon Township who holds a Ph.D. in general engineering, Campbell said part of the effort to seek funding from the state has been through highlighting the school’s success at producing highly educated professionals – 93 percent of which work in science, technology, engineering and math fields. According to his research, 100 percent of the program’s alumni have attended college with 87 percent earning a graduate degree and 60 percent going on to obtain a Ph.D., medical or law degree. He added that the program has produced more than 300 published research papers.

For Campbell, the school was about showing him how to push his limits and worker harder than he thought possible alongside other driven people.

Alfred Schnabel, a 1994 alumnus and PGSS Campaign treasurer, called his time in the program a “defining experience” and said it was one of the first times he had to work hard academically. A self-described nerdy kid from New Castle, Schnabel said the aspect he enjoyed most was having the chance to connect with like-minded students.

“At the end of the program, it’s like you don’t want to leave,” he said, “You couldn’t imagine spending you summer any other way.”

Schnabel, who went on to study at Case Western Reserve University and now works as a software analyst for Verizon, said the program provides great opportunities for bright students who may fall through the cracks at small school districts that are focused more on the ones who are struggling.

Applications are now being accepted for high school juniors and are due no later than Feb. 15.

The program runs from June 30 to Aug. 3. For more information, visit www.pgss.mcs.cmu.edu.

Andy McNeil has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2011 as a general assignment reporter. He covers courts and education, and also serves as a photographer and videographer. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, with a degree in English; Duquense University with a post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, and Point Park University with a graduate degree in journalism and mass communication.

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