EMS Upward Bound Math and Science team wins more than just first place

High school students Miguel Santana and Cintia Vasquez had the opportunity to conduct research for six weeks at Penn State through the Upward Bound Math and Science program. Pictured, from left to right, are James Guyton, coordinator of multicultural affairs, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS); Santana; Vasquez; Yvette Richardson, associate dean for undergraduate education, EMS; and Victoria Sanchez, associate dean for educational equity, EMS. Credit: Joyce Yong / Penn StateAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six weeks of hard work paid off for Miguel Santana and Cintia Vasquez, two high school students who participated in the Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) Summer Residential Program through the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS). They were awarded first place at the program’s awards ceremony, held Thursday, July 21, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus. But the students achieved much more than just an award, like learning how to conduct research in a lab and deliver a presentation to their peers.

Cintia Vasquez, a high school student from Reading, Pennsylvania, conducts research related to the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing. Vasquez and teammate Miguel Santana were awarded first place for Upward Bound Math and Science participants at Penn State for 2016. Credit: Joyce Yong / Penn StateAll Rights Reserved.

Federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education, UBMS is designed to strengthen the math and science skills of low-income, potential first-generation college students. The program encourages these students to pursue postsecondary degrees in math and science, and ultimately careers in the math and science professions.

The UBMS program collaborates with several Penn State colleges to create research experiences. In EMS, students participate in the college’s Summer Experience in EMS (SEEMS) program.

Santana, a junior from Reading Senior High School, and Vasquez, a senior from Harrisburg High School, relished the opportunity to conduct science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research with Penn State faculty.

“It was really fun and educational to work with everyone at the University, especially getting the experience in the lab and having them help to prepare us for college,” said Santana. “The experience definitely exceeded my expectations.”

The UBMS program culminates in a research presentation that showcases the students’ work.

“The presentation really brought everything together for me and helped me prepare for after high school,” said Vasquez. “I’m just so proud that all of our hard work earned us first place.”

The two students were mentored by a team of researchers from EMS’ John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering that included Li Li, associate professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering, and Zhang Cai, graduate student.

The team’s presentation, “Understanding Reactive Transport of Marcellus Shale Waters in Natural Aquifer Systems,” focused on environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania, specifically related to the effects on ground water, an important source of drinking water.

“I am very happy that our students won after all of their dedication in the program,” Li said. “All of us involved are passionate about enhancing the diversity of the student population and helping students from disadvantaged groups. They deserve the same opportunities for education and research as everybody else.”

Cai echoed Li’s sentiment, emphasizing the importance of exposing high school students to STEM research with the help of faculty and graduate students.

“Participating in this program gives us the opportunity to encourage young students to pursue college degrees in fields that they enjoy,” said Cai. “The students were eager to learn the fundamental principles in this work so that they could create their presentation, and they deserved to be successful.”

Although Vasquez and Santana researched and presented on the topic of hydrogeochemistry, they’re still considering the many majors they could pursue as an undergraduate. But one thing is clear — they both want to attend Penn State.

Other EMS faculty who served as mentors in this year’s SEEMS program included Joan Redwing, professor of materials science and engineering; Elizabeth Hajek, assistant professor of geosciences; and William Brune, distinguished professor of meteorology.

For more information about Penn State’s Upward Bound Math and Science Program, visit

Last Updated August 16, 2016