by Julie Lineback
More than 30 incoming freshmen got a sneak peek at college life during this year’s installment of the University of West Georgia Institutional STEM Excellence (UWise) Summer Scholars Academy, which ran from June 29- July 24. The students—all interested in STEM disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and math—were able to live on campus and attend college classes while earning six college credits.
“You’re now a full-fledged member of the Wolfpack,” UWG President Kyle Marrero announced to the students at the closing ceremony before leading them in a group howl. “You have finished your first step. It’s only about four weeks until you start classes in the fall, so rest up.”
Dr. Swamy Mruthinti, co-PI of UWise, mentioned that the UWise program is a collaborative effort of over 30 faculty members from three colleges, mainly from the College of Science and Mathematics (COSM), the College of Arts and Humanities (COAH), and the College of Education (COE). He thanked faculty and staff for their support.
The program covers two courses: a math course that focuses on college algebra and an English course that helps students develop college level reading and writing skills.
“Our nation needs more scientists and engineers, but there’s a lot more to STEM than being a neurosurgeon or a rocket scientist,” said Project Analyst for the External Evaluation of the University System of Georgia (USG) STEM Initiative Nathan Moon. “There are many ways to participate in STEM. Every single one of those careers is important and makes a valuable contribution to our nation.”
COE Dean Dianne Hoff emphasized the need for STEM educators in Georgia and throughout the United States.
“The only way we’re going to have that is if you help us make a difference with the little kids who are coming up the pipeline behind you,” she explained. “Teaching’s a great choice for a couple of reasons: it’s secure, you get to do fun science and math, and you decide what you get to do. The best thing of all is you make a big difference in kids’ lives.”
While quantitative data matters to programs like UWise, they equally value the personal journeys of our students.
“Before the UWise program, I was terrified about making the transition from high school to college,” said Carrollton native Elaine Wheetman, whose interest is in chemical engineering. “I was worried about how I would interact with the teachers, but I got to know Dr. [Rebecca] Harrison, Dr. [Scott] Sykes, and Dr. [Brooke] Parks, and it calmed my nerves. Now, I’m very confident about the fall semester.”
The program also gives students a sense of community that will stay with them through their stay at UWG.
“You get to make friends and connections that you want to have whenever you go into college,” shared biology major Lydia Fuller from Whitesburg. “You already know 32 people and you’re already good friends with them because you spent a whole month living with them in the same hall.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, UWise participant Victoria Tummings presented the professors with gift baskets from the student group. “Thanking you would not be enough,” she said on behalf of the group. “You have opened our minds in ways we could only imagine.”
While Drs. Harrison, Sykes, and Parks received their gifts, Victoria shared anecdotes about their month together. Cheers and shouts of “That’s my teacher!” punctuated the air.
“That’s the first time we’ve ever received a gift from a UWise class,” said Dr. Harrison, assistant professor of English. “I can’t tell you how special this moment is for us.”
For more information about the University of West Georgia Institutional STEM Excellence program, visit www.westga.edu/uwise/.