High Schoolers Flock to the Learning Labs at BMCC

October 23, 1998


After school classes encourage students to study science and math.

A college laboratory might be the last place where you would expect to find a high school student on a Friday after school. But if you dropped by a lab at Borough of Manhattan Community College from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the end of the school week, you’d find plenty of them.

Beginning October 30, between 120 to 180 students, representing the Choir Academy of Harlem, Murry Bergtraum High School, Norman Thomas High School, the High School of Finance and Economics and other schools, will be participating in BMCC’s Science Technology Entry Program, or STEP.

STEP is a unique program that brings high school students considered to be underprepared in mathematics and the sciences to BMCC. There they study and learn about biology, chemistry and physics, along with mathematics and language arts, in a laboratory setting with college and high school faculty as their guides.

Dr. Stephanie Mazur, director of STEP and a BMCC science faculty member, says students are actively recruited for the program, and many come to STEP with great enthusiasm.

“I think a lot of these students want to better themselves,” she says. “Those of us involved in the program make them feel successful, and that’s why STEP is so successful. They’re encouraged by their high school teachers, who also recommend them for participation. And then, by attending here at the college, we help to make them feel as if they belong in this environment. It’s a very positive program.”

Mazur says she sees STEP as a learning opportunity for students who, for whatever reason, don’t excel in science and math. The program is funded by grants, and is targeted at students who are underrepresented in the sciences.

STEP participants attend a weekly three-hour class at BMCC for six weeks. Each class involves a hands-on experience in one of the three sciences offered, as well as related work in math and language arts. A portion of the program also takes place in the students’ own schools, where BMCC tutors continue the learning process.

Additionally, according to Mazur, trips are planned to locations that offer an experience in math or science, such as the Goudreau Museum of Mathematics in Art and Science and the New York Hall of Science. STEP students also participate in internship programs that give them an active insight into careers in math and science.

Sandra Rumayor, director of partnerships and collaborative programs at BMCC, says one of the keys to the success of STEP is “fun.”

“The students like it because they find the classes exciting,” Rumayor says. “At the beginning, they think that all they’re doing is having fun. And then suddenly, they realize they’re actually learning something in math or science.”

Stephanie Mazur adds, “They’re doing something that’s practical, that relates to their lives. They’re using science to make soap or ice cream, or to determine the fat content of ground meat, or product testing cereals, which involves performing experiments and analyzing data. One of the things the students discover is that learning is more than just memorizing and testing.”

Equally important, according to Mazur and Rumayor, is the opportunity to learn in a college environment, a place where many of the high school students initially may not think they belong. Exposure to the college environment, they say, breeds confidence in the students and promotes their greater success in the program.

And like college, there is a graduation. Each STEP “cycle,” fall and spring, culminates in a recognition ceremony in which students demonstrate what they’ve learned and receive a certificate acknowledging their successful completion of the program, something that allows the students to feel a sense of accomplishment. And, according to Mazur, STEP is rewarding not only for the participating high school students, but also for the faculty and for herself.

“Everyone loves working with these kids,” she says. “They have a tremendous amount of potential, and to help them realize that is exciting. Without STEP, some of these kids might fall through the cracks. We’re making sure that they don’t.”

Borough of Manhattan Community College, the most diverse community college in the history of The City University of New York, provides quality programs and services in Lower Manhattan to nearly 17,000 students in 20 degree programs. Nationally, BMCC ranks #1 in awarding associate degrees to African Americans, #2 in awarding associate degrees to minorities and #5 in awarding associate degrees to Latinos.

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