Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
December 10, 1999

Bound for science (and math too)

by Marjorie Sandner, News Service intern
Anita Rollins' life might have been completely different if Science Bound had been around when she was in seventh grade.

Science Bound, established in 1990 with the help of a National Science Foundation grant, is a program that's intended to interest Des Moines ethnic minority students in science and math careers.

"I have always been interested in science, and I think I would've been in Science Bound if it had been around when I was their age, but there wasn't a program like this then," said Rollins, who became the program's manager last May.

"Working with the students is a little like déjà vu for me," she said.

Rollins, who attended public school in Des Moines, said she remembers being inundated with career choices in high school so she can understand how making the wrong choices can affect one's life. While she would have liked to study a technical field in college, she convinced her parents that she should go where her friends were going.

"That probably wasn't the best academic choice," she said. "But at least I get to stay close to science through my work with Science Bound. I think I get as much of a kick out of it as the students do.

"It's an important program and it really is making a difference," she added. "We target students who may not already have been identified as gifted and we try to encourage those students to pursue technical degrees," she said.

Contracts and shadow days
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the innovative program that was established by the Ames Laboratory and now is sponsored by the Institute for Physical Research and Technology. The program is available only in Des Moines public schools, although organizers hope to expand to other communities as resources become available. Des Moines was chosen because it has a substantial population of ethnic minority students and because of its proximity to Iowa State, Rollins said.

Science Bound candidates, students who show an aptitude for science and math, are identified in seventh grade through standardized test results and by their teachers' recommendations.

About 50 students enter the program each year; by the time they are high school seniors, the number typically has dwindled to about 15, Rollins said.

"We're really pleased with this number since we are talking about identifying students in seventh grade, before they really know what they're interested in doing with their lives," Rollins said. "We also know from evaluations (done by the College of Education) that even students who choose not to complete the program credit Science Bound with helping them make the right choices academically to get them to college."

A research study indicates that Science Bound students show more positive attitudes toward science, score significantly higher on academic achievement tests, and have better school attendance and fewer discipline problems than non-Science Bound students, Rollins said.

Science Bound students sign a contract promising to meet certain obligations, such as attending 75 percent of the program's activities, which take place after school and on Saturdays, and maintaining a "B" average in their classes.

While activities are geared to different age groups, the program typically includes a one-week summer residential enrichment program at Iowa State, in-school meetings with a Science Bound group, Saturday work with Iowa State professors and an overnight field trip. High school juniors and seniors participate in a "Shadow Day" (spending the day with an Iowa State student) and plan at least one other learning activity.

Those who complete the program and meet all its requirements receive free tuition to Iowa State if they major in science or math and remain in good standing academically.

Success stories
Next semester, Charles Stewart, a senior in agricultural biochemistry, will be the first Science Bound student to graduate from Iowa State. He is president of the national minority agricultural organization, MANRRS, and recently represented the organization and Iowa State at a building dedication in Washington, D.C.

This fall, 31 Science Bound graduates are enrolled at Iowa State. Twenty-six are using their scholarships to pursue degrees in such areas as electrical engineering, computer engineering, pre-professional health, agriculture and biochemistry. Another 15 high school seniors are expected to receive Science Bound scholarships next fall, Rollins said.

The scholarships are particularly attractive to the parents, Rollins said. This is important, she said, because the parents' support is crucial to the students' success.

The program uses a team approach, blending the talents and influence of professional scientists and engineers at Iowa State, high school math and science teachers and the students' parents.

"Many parents come along on field trips and chaperone," said Kathy Trahanovsky, chemistry faculty member and program director. "They get a lot out of the program, too. They learn almost as much as the students do, and it gives them a chance to see what college is about if they didn't go to college themselves."

Trahanovsky recalled a recent field trip to a dairy farm, during which a student's parent saw a cow for the first time.

"I think the impact we have had on the parents is also one of the big successes of the program," she said.

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