Rice Reaches Out To Houston High Schools

July 20, 2009

To provide resources that help Houston Independent School District’s underserved students enter and excel in college, Rice University facilitated institutes this summer geared toward at-risk high school students from underserved communities in Houston. In partnership with Project GRAD, a national nonprofit education reform model, Rice faculty and staff offered a three-week Advanced Mathematics Institute, a three-week Nanochemistry Institute, a three-week Summer Business Institute and a one-week College and Career Knowledge Institute.

“Rice University is uniquely equipped to help underserved minority students by offering them greater exposure to diverse academic and career paths in supportive settings,” said Maxie Hollingsworth, director of K-12 initiatives at Rice. “Through our summer institutes, we can offer high-quality research and hands-on educational experiences that expose students to all kinds of critical thinking and professionals from a variety of disciplines.”


To further help support the high school students’ transition to college and put them on footing with more advantaged peers, Rice offers its resources — pioneering research faculty, state-of-the art laboratories and science institutes, and innovative educational and support programs — to the Project GRAD College Institutes. 

Sponsored by Shell Oil and led by Rice University School Mathematics Project and its director, Anne Papakonstantinou, the Advanced Mathematics Institute exposed the high school students to a university atmosphere while engaging them in an active approach to learning mathematics. The students tackled concept-based learning activities. Instead of using only pen and papers to learn algebra, students visually explored the concept of optimization by experimenting with volumes of sand in test tubes.

The Nanochemistry Institute prepared ninth- and 10th-grade pre-chemistry students for high school chemistry by having them conduct fundamental experiments in a faculty-led college chemistry laboratory. One of the favorite experiments was synthesizing polymers, which built on previous lessons about chemical bonding. Sponsored by Schlumberger and led by the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology and its associate director, Carolyn Nichol, the hands-on laboratory course aimed to educate students about scientific career opportunities.

For the institute, Nichol also teamed up with a couple of HISD master teachers and guest speakers from science, technology, engineering and math industry to inform students about the pathways to STEM careers, pre-college coursework needed to get into college and STEM-related college opportunities.

The Rice Summer Business Institute groomed its Project GRAD students to be future business leaders by giving them firsthand exposure to the fundamentals of money, financial markets and business in its course Money & Business 101. The students — all from economically disadvantaged communities in Houston — spent 70 intensive hours over their summer breaks analyzing stocks, learning about the world of energy and connecting with some of the most prominent names in Houston business.

RSBI, hosted by the Jones Graduate School of Management and led by Jill Foote, lecturer of management and director of the El Paso Finance Center, the course placed a heavy emphasis on communication skills by having the high school students perform public speaking exercises and presentations, refine PowerPoint skills and enhance their professional etiquette. 

Project GRAD students also took part in the College and Career Knowledge Institute, which provided comprehensive information about getting into college and paying for college and about trends affecting college admissions counseling. Led by the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies’ Amy McClurd and Rebecca Sharp and supported by J.P. Morgan Chase, the institute exposed the ninth-graders to information about and opportunities in many career fields, while offering counseling, mentoring and other college-level services.

“A partnership such as ours with Project GRAD can be a powerful tool to help revitalize communities, particularly by supporting the local public education system,” Hollingsworth said. “And the Rice University/Project GRAD relationship is consistent with the Rice’s Vision for Second Century by engaging with Houston, supporting K-12 education and fostering relationships with schools and educational organizations.”

Project GRAD serves more than 132,000 economically disadvantaged youth in 211 schools across the nation. More than 90 percent of Project GRAD students are low-income, and 91 percent are minority students. GRAD has a proven track record nationwide in increasing high school graduation and college attendance rates for low-income students. The national Project GRAD model has grown from a scholarship program, which began in partnership with Houston Independent School District in 1989.
Today, Project GRAD Houston is at work in five feeder patterns of HISD, serving 66 schools and more than 45,000 children — about 23 percent of the school district’s total school population and 24 percent of its total at-risk population.


InstantNewsWestu Staff

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