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A new UMass Lowell program, barely a year old, designed to widen the scope of the region’s top high-school students while at the same time expanding the University’s reach, is not only flourishing but looking to expand.
The fledgling TEAMS (Technology, Engineering and Math-Science) program, which since September has been busing 32 specially selected 11th- and 12th-grade students every morning from 12 local high schools to take part here in hands-on labs, is hoping to add as many as 40 more to that number and to widen its offerings for next year.
The four morning courses already being offered to the students ߞ; environmental biotechnology, interactive robotics, bat engineering design, and assistive technology and electronics ߞ; will be on the schedule again next year, says TEAMS coordinator Donald Rhine. In addition, Rhine says, two more lab courses ߞ; in anatomy and nuclear energy ߞ; are being planned for the afternoons. These will benefit both students whose school schedules don’t permit the morning classes, and those who participated in the TEAMS program as juniors and want to take part again in their senior year.
The only hurdle is funding. TEAMS is currently being funded by a one-year $650,000 legislative apportionment, sponsored chiefly by state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, which covers the principal cost areas of tuition, teachers’ salaries and busing to and from the University. The program has applied for a renewal of the funding ߞ; together with an increase to cover the costs of the expanded offerings ߞ; though the outcome of that application will not be known for certain until the start of the new fiscal year in July.
The courses offered, which are taught by regional high-school faculty and were developed through a collaboration between them and UMass Lowell professors, are designed to supplement, rather than to replace, advanced high school courses. Their goal is to allow selected students ߞ; most of those chosen rank near the top of their classes ߞ; to explore applied concepts in a range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career fields that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter until their junior or senior years in college.
“The idea is to encourage students who perhaps haven’t considered STEM careers before to maybe rethink things a little,” says Donald Rhine, himself a physics teacher at Tyngsboro High. “A lot of my own brightest students, for instance, the ones who are really good in science and math, they end up going into English or business or some other field.
“What we try to do is show them what’s out there ߞ; that there are literally hundreds of career routes for someone who’s good in science and math ߞ; by offering them courses that are challenging and fun, hands-on courses where they actually get to build things and do things, courses they wouldn’t [otherwise] have a chance at till they got to be juniors or seniors in college. And that way we can show them ߞ; an engineer isn’t just this or that, there’s more to it than you think.
“And the bonus is, you get these top high-school students coming to UMass Lowell doing challenging, creative things ߞ; and hopefully going back and telling their friends about it. You get the cream of the crop out there spreading the word about us. There’s nothing wrong with that.”