“Every day we spent hours in the lab with amazing teaching assistants who helped us isolate and purify protein, grow E. Coli, and fundamentally alter bacteria. It might sound grueling to outsiders, but our time was filled with corny jokes, friendly banter, and intellectually stimulating conversations,” said Teslimah Ojifinni, a senior from Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey, describing her pre-college experience at Stevens Institute of Technology this past summer.
Ojifinni was one of hundreds of high school students to arrive on Stevens' campus in Hoboken, New Jersey in July to explore the many exciting and lucrative career possibilities in STEM fields through more than a dozen pre-college programs that range from cybersecurity and business to game design and an engineering boot camp.
They also get a taste of college life while living in residence halls, making new friends and experiencing independence for the first time in their lives.
Stevens has expanded access to this much sought-after pre-college experience to top performing high school students from underserved communities thanks to full scholarships made possible through Stevens ACES (Accessing Careers in Engineering and Science), a broad initiative that launched in 2017 to increase diversity in STEM education and careers.
“ACES has two parts, pre-college and undergraduate scholarships. We’re trying to level the playing field so students from underserved communities can take advantage of the same benefits that everyone else can at Stevens,” explained Marybeth Murphy, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs.
In the summer of 2018, the first year Stevens ACES was implemened, 26 high school students from underserved communities received ACES pre-college scholarships.
Angelene Veloce, a member of the 2018 cohort, understands firsthand the impact ACES support can have. She joined Stevens this past fall as a member of the undergraduate Class of 2023.
In addition to insights into STEM careers and majors, Veloce says that the campus experience itself helped her discover what she wanted out of her college experience, helping her narrow her choice of colleges to the ones that were truly right for her.
“I learned from my pre-college experience that I perform best in a tight-knit, supportive community like the one at Stevens. I got a feel for the environment there from the curriculum, lectures and labs, and the relationships I formed with fellow pre-college students, as well as Stevens students and faculty,” explained Veloce, now a first-year student at Stevens’ School of Business.
For the second year in a row, Stevens ACES made it possible for more high school students from underserved communities to gain insight into the college experience while discovering college majors and career paths. In July 2019, 27 students from partner high schools in New Jersey and New York, including Ojifinni, participated in more than a dozen pre-college programs at Stevens, which can cost $2,300-$3,800, through full scholarship support from ACES.
Whether it’s conducting experiments in a biology lab, designing a boat, testing the safety of helmets as part of a concussion research project, taking old games and formatting them into new ones, or creating music beats in a studio, Stevens Pre-College programs are project-driven and emphasize hands-on learning and teamwork, says Seth Moncrease, Jr., director of pre-college programs at Stevens.
Edlyn Thompson-Mettle, associate director for diversity programs at Stevens, adds that a pre-college experience, particularly one with a technology focus, can give college-bound high school students a decided advantage as they move on to higher education.
“Technology touches every facet of life and it is the driving force of the economy. Young people need to develop technological skills early in their education in order to participate and thrive in today’s workforce. Through Stevens ACES, we hope to inspire and encourage high school students with limited exposure to STEM opportunities to pursue a STEM discipline,” said Thompson-Mettle.
That “early” glimpse into the college experience and exposure to STEM careers and majors is a “huge advantage” during the college application process, according to Christian Arbeeny, a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School and recipient of a 2019 ACES pre-college scholarship.
“I [still] want to study electrical engineering, but the [pre-college] program opened my eyes to mechanical engineering and systems engineering, and to a lot of different things. Living in a college environment gave me a better idea of what to look for in a school, forcing me to rethink and adjust my list of colleges because I now know what it’s really like,” said Arbeeny.