Program Hosted on UML Campus Propels Students Toward STEM Careers

The Calculus Project Jayden Saint-Felix Image by Spencer Blasdale
Mechanical engineering major Jayden Saint-Felix, center, helps two rising seventh graders with their math work.

By Brooke Coupal

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries are booming in Massachusetts, but racial minority representation in those fields remains low.

About 600,000 people work in STEM occupations in the state; only 5% of those workers are Black and 6% are Hispanic, according to a report released last year by the Commonwealth Corporation.

To provide children of color as well as those from low-income families with a successful pathway toward STEM careers, the Kennedy College of Sciences (KCS) teamed up with The Calculus Project (TCP) to offer local students an advanced mathematics summer program.

“It’s essential that students feel comfortable with mathematics at a young age,” KCS Dean Noureddine Melikechi says. “This program will help get students interested in STEM careers.”

For three weeks, about 50 rising seventh, eighth and ninth graders from Lowell Community Charter Public School (LCCPS) came to UMass Lowell’s campus, where they learned math skills in preparation for the upcoming school year.

“With The Calculus Project, the students’ knowledge of mathematics is deepened because we pre-teach during the summer,” says Adrian Mims, founder and CEO of the program, which is based in Massachusetts. “We teach them the habits that successful students possess, and we teach them how to work collaboratively in teams.”

Maurice Ntoro, who graduated from LCCPS and is entering ninth grade at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, joined TCP last year when UMass Lowell first partnered with the initiative. 

“What I learned last year helped me on the math placement test for high school,” says Ntoro, whose goal is to become a software engineer. “And what I’m learning now is giving me the confidence that I’m going to need for my upcoming classes.”

“The Kennedy College of Sciences provided a great environment for the kids to be comfortable enough to be really challenged, and to see the future right in front of them.” -TCP Chief Program Officer Spencer Blasdale

Students are encouraged through TCP to take honors and advanced-level courses, which puts them on a trajectory toward college and other STEM opportunities. TCP also offers tutoring to the students during the school year.

Jayden Saint-Felix is one of many students who have gone off to college to major in a STEM discipline after joining TCP. The Boston resident took part in the initiative for five years at Boston University before transitioning into a peer teacher role for the program at UMass Lowell after he graduated from high school.

“It’s cool to see the young kids so excited to learn math,” says Saint-Felix, who helps current TCP students while they do independent and group work.

Saint-Felix is heading into his sophomore year at UML and credits TCP with helping him decide on a major – mechanical engineering. Through TCP’s PRIDE Curriculum, Saint-Felix got to meet and learn about mechanical engineers who are of color, which sparked his interest in that field.

“Students form a stronger STEM identity when they are able to see themselves in the curriculum and see professionals of color,” Mims says.

Students in the summer program also get exposed to different STEM opportunities just by being on a university campus.

“The Kennedy College of Sciences provided a great environment for the kids to be comfortable enough to be really challenged, and to see the future right in front of them,” says TCP Chief Program Officer Spencer Blasdale, who oversaw the program at UML. “Students are in an environment where they’re studying math and seeing scientists, microbiologists and applied physicists walking down the halls. It changes their outlook.”

Samuel Colby, a rising senior mathematical sciences major, helped make sure the TCP students felt at home at UMass Lowell by getting their classrooms ready and bringing them to Fox Dining Commons for meals. As a KCS ambassador, he answered the students’ questions about the university.

“One of the students came up to me and said, ‘Maybe I’ll go to school for my doctorate in engineering. Is that even a thing? Can I do that?’ to which I replied, ‘Oh yeah, you can definitely do that,’” Colby says. “It was really cool seeing the cogs in their head turning.”