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New Mexico State University program 'preps' students for science careers

Students from the Gadsden, Hatch and Las Cruces school districts are attending a summer session at New Mexico State University designed to encourage their interest in science and give them the tools to succeed at the university level.



Bill Curtiss, left, a science teacher at Vista Middle School who is an instructor this summer in New Mexico State University's Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP), prepares to launch a water-and-compressed-air-powered rocket designed by a student in..

One hundred and forty-two students are attending the Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP), which began June 10 and continues through July 24. The number of students in the program has climbed steadily each year since it began in 1996, said program director Richard Fischer.

Students in PREP said that even if they are not interested in engineering careers the program helps them realize their goals.

Everly Laredo, a 10th-grader at Gadsden High School, said she wants to get a doctorate in clinical psychology eventually and the math and science in the PREP program will help her in that goal.

"It's always good to know something about other jobs," she added. "This way, if I decide I don't want to go into psychology, I can do something else."

Amanda Avalos, a ninth-grader at Hatch High School, said she wants to be a trauma surgeon, but the attention she has gotten from PREP teachers and mentors has helped her in her studies.

"It has really helped me understand what I was doing. Most of the teachers treat you like a person. They have you for an hour and the classes aren't as big as those in regular school," she said.

Anthony Anastasia, an eighth-grader at Chaparral Middle School, said he really might want to be an engineer someday.

"I'd like to fly jet fighters, but if I can't fly them I'd like to build them," he said. "But, even if students weren't interested in engineering, this is still a good program. The students are ahead, for one thing. They know more and they can do math and science better."

"The program's goal is to take bright young minds and keep alive their interest in science over the summer," said Fischer. "More specifically, we focus on math. We say, 'Let's get you prepared in math, because the need for math goes across discipline lines in the sciences.'"

Students in the program attend classes from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. They study algebra or pre-algebra, geometry, engineering, computer science, logic, physics, probability and statistics and technical writing. The classes are taught by experienced public school teachers. University students serve as mentors, Fischer said.

The PREP students are designing their own water-and-compressed-air-powered rockets that they will launch from the university's Horseshoe on Tuesday, July 23. Fridays are field-trip days, when the students visit places like White Sands Missile Range, the National Solar Observatory, Carlsbad Caverns in Carlsbad, or the Intel Corp. in Rio Rancho.

PREP is free to the students. Approximately 90 percent of its funding comes from NASA and Intel, with additional contributions from the university and the federal Summer Food Service Program. Jerome and Joyce Shaw contributed $10,000 to the program this year. Jerome Shaw, a New Mexico State alumnus, is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Volt Information Sciences Inc. in Orange County, Calif..

To be admitted into the program, students must have a B-plus average in math, write an essay on why they wish to attend, and get recommendations from two teachers, including their math teacher. The applications of minorities, low-income students and young women are given extra weight. Participants are tested and get high school credit for the work if they earn passing grades, Fischer said.

For more information in the program, call the PREP office at (505) 646-3130.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/prep_rocket.jpg.
CUTLINE: Bill Curtiss, left, a science teacher at Vista Middle School who is an instructor this summer in New Mexico State University's Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP), prepares to launch a water-and-compressed-air-powered rocket designed by a student in the program. Middle and high school students participating in the program look on. Vista Middle School student Noemi Medrano, second from right, will use a wrist watch to time how long the rocket remains airborne. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Jack King
July 2, 2002