UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s early and the latest cohort of Millennium Scholars are already on their feet, walking single file to a 6:45 a.m. breakfast, readying for a long day of learning that’ll conclude some 16 hours later.
Today, like every day in this summer Bridge Program — a six-week summer boot camp that preps students for the four-year Millennium Scholars Program — there is rigorous classwork, seminars, workshops and math recitation awaiting 29 of Penn State’s new bright minds. This boot camp isn’t designed to produce soldiers, although it mirrors the same practices of using fellowship to solve problems. It’s designed to produce the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scientists.
The program, which began at Penn State in 2013, this year includes a pair of students from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. At the summer Bridge Program, students are immediately immersed in a rich academic and research environment. Gone are the distractions. No cell phones, laptops or iPods. Instead, attention is turned to beginning academic careers while making ties with the University’s leading researchers.
The scholars are also there to develop ties among their peers. A chief tenet of the program is that teamwork and camaraderie — not competition — leads to the next generation of scientific discoveries. From there, students jump into a college curriculum aimed at producing doctoral students while improving diversity in STEM fields. The program guides students through their bachelor’s degree, helping them optimize every opportunity to make them highly competitive as graduate applicants and set them up for long-term success in doctoral study.
“The students in Millennium Scholars are the best and brightest underrepresented students who dream of pursuing a Ph.D.,” said Victoria Sanchez, associate dean for educational equity. “STEM fields are about making new knowledge, pushing the boundary of what we know and how we know it. Most gets applied in ways that make our lives and societies better. If we don’t have the brainpower of a significant portion of our population, we could be missing out. What if the next greatest discovery — for medicine, space travel, climate change — is in the brain of a person who belongs to a group that has historically had great challenges in accessing a college education?
Penn State’s program — the third of its kind in the nation — is modeled after the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with its particular focus on the importance of the Bridge Program.
The Meyerhoff Scholars Program, recognized by the National Science Foundation and The New York Times as a national model, has more than 300 students enrolled and more than 1,000 graduates — nearly 90 percent of whom have gone on to attend graduate school.
Of those UMBC graduates, about 70 percent are underrepresented minorities, where one in four, nationally, attain a degree.
“Earning a degree in the STEM field is rigorous yet rewarding, and these students already are learning the challenges ahead in their quest to become the next generation of researchers,” said William Easterling, dean of the College of EMS, adding that the program elevates students to succeed in a field where just half of the nation’s students graduate.
The program is meant, in part, to foster a sense of family. That’s important to Ana Isabel De La Fuente Duran and Brian Swab, the college’s first Millennium Scholars. Both have rich ties to the University.