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UMass program whets appetites for math, sciences

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL Exploring computer programs and comparing DNA sequences are not your typical summer jobs for recent high-school graduates but they are typical for prospective science majors who plan to attend UMass Lowell.

Under the school's new Summer Opportunities in Science (SOS) program, incoming freshmen who plan to major in math, chemistry or physics can be selected to work with a professor the summer before they begin attending classes.

And not only do they earn valuable research experience, but also dollars in their pocket. The 10 students who took part in the program received a salary of $2,500 for their eight weeks of work.

"Instead of having a McDonald's job or some job that doesn't in any way help their education, we would offer them a fairly well-paid summer job if they came to the university," said Robert Tamarin, dean of sciences at UMass Lowell.

The goal behind the program was to draw more students into math and the sciences, which have been seeing enrollment declines in recent years. While university officials cannot attribute any increases solely to the summer program, the number of incoming students has crept up into the double digits for this year.

For students who have already indicated an interest in the sciences, participating in the summer program has helped to cement that idea.

"It's made my interest grow more," said Steven Ward of Tewksbury, a freshman at UMass Lowell. "It's helped me to see that I do have an interest in this area."

Tamarin said he believes the program will continue next summer.

"We're taking kids with the initial desire and giving them as much support as we can at this point," he said. "It was a very, very successful program."

With classes starting this week, students who took part in the program say they feel more acclimated to the campus than other freshman setting foot on it for the first time.

They also have a better idea of where they want to go in their college careers.

"I was pretty solid with my choice at first, but it brought more ideas to my attention," said Dalia Kattan, a UMass Lowell freshman from Chelmsford.

All in all, students said they would recommend the experience to any incoming math, physics or chemistry major.

"It was a very positive experience a lot of flexibility, a good environment. It let us get our feet wet at the university," Ward said.