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LAMP gives students taste of college experience

Twenty-four Southeast Texas high-school students are exploring the applications of mathematics in the two-week, residential Lamar Achievement in Mathematics Program (LAMP) at Lamar University.

Sandra Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, said the program is designed to help students explore mathematics and learn about academic and professional opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“We try to look at the beauty in mathematics and non-algorithmic approaches to mathematics,” she said. “We expose them to forms of mathematics that they may not have become familiar with in high school in a traditional classroom setting. It is sort of a non-traditional math experience they have here.”

The program is funded by the American Mathematical Society, Texas Workforce Commission and the Mathematical Association of America and is free to students.

The LAMP math camp has a competitive admissions process. Richardson received as many as 60 applications from students this year, of which, only 24 were admitted.

Tony Sarda, Lamar admissions representative, said programs like LAMP give students an opportunity to witness the college experience first-hand to help them make decisions about their academic future.

“We want to make sure students take the opportunity to get involved in their education early on,” he said. “For a lot of students, these camps and other summer programs are going to be their first exposure to a college setting. It’s their first chance to speak with academic professionals to get the information they need to make an informed decision about where they want to go to college.”

During the two-week program, LAMP students stay in the Cardinal Village residence halls on the Lamar campus.

“We really want them to be immersed in college life and interact with our undergraduate students,” Richardson said.

Sixteen year old Tre’Von Fobbs, 11th grader at Nederland High School, said the LAMP summer program gave him a taste of what may be in store for his academic future.

“I really like that it is a real college setting,” he said. “That is probably my favorite part of the camp – being on campus, going to different classes and meeting different professors. It has been a real college experience.”

Fifteen year-old Manaswi Mari, 10th grader at Cypress-Woods High School, said she has enjoyed learning math in a new and fun environment.

“This camp shows you math in a new and challenging, creative way,” she said. “The professors on a college campus teach math differently than the way we learn in high school. They are very energetic and seem happy to teach you.”

LAMP students engage in hands-on activities that allow them to develop their skills in mathematics in a variety of ways.

 “We try to introduce them to new things they haven’t seen,” Richardson said. “They all take a calculus course, which many of the students don’t have access to in high school. They take a course called ‘Game Theory’ where they take a look at the mathematical applications behind games like poker and casino-type games. We do a SAT prep course and the computer academy where they learn how to program code.”

Peggy Doerschuk, professor of computer science and director of the LAMP computing academy, said giving students an opportunity to see how math is involved in something they are familiar with exposes students to different ways to apply their knowledge.

The computing academy uses a program called “Greenfoot” that allows students to enter code to complete partially coded video games. The course is taught by undergraduate STEM-field students.

“This gives the LAMP scholars a taste of what it's like to program video games,” Doerschuk said. “It also exposes them to Java, a mainstream programming language that is often used in introductory computing courses. The computing academy is also beneficial to the undergraduate instructors because it helps them solidify concepts and gives them valuable experience in teaching, communication, and teamwork.”

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Billy J Newman, Jasper senior, STAIRSTEP member and LAMP computing academy instructor said the symbiosis established between the undergraduate instructors and LAMP students creates role-models for the younger students while reinforcing learned concepts for the undergraduates. STAIRSTEP is a research program designed to help undergraduates secure jobs in the STEM fields and attain admission to graduate programs. STAIRSTEP encourages students to get involved in teaching STEM related camps to fine tune their skills in their subjects.

“The LAMP program helps me to stay fresh in programming and keeping the basics first and foremost in my career,” Newman said. “The program also allows me to interact with students that are eager to learn and willing to listen to what interests me. Teaching and having someone understand what you are teaching them is great motivation to keep me going in my career.”

An important aspect of LAMP is the opportunity for students to begin to build relationships with academic professionals. Richardson said many of the LAMP students keep her apprised of their academic plans and progress.

“A good number out of every cohort will keep in touch with us through emails throughout the year,” she said. “We have had at least two LAMP students graduate and come to Lamar to become math majors. Out of last year’s program, just about all of them email fairly frequently. They send us a message to say they made the A/B honor roll, or they made it into a summer STEM academy – just to update us on their academic life.”

Doerschuk said she enjoys working with the LAMP program.

“It's very gratifying to see the light go on in a high-school student's eyes when they learn something new,” she said.  “It is also very gratifying to see the undergraduate students grow in their ability to communicate, share experiences, and help others.  It's important to reach out to students in high school and earlier to show them that STEM careers are very interesting, rewarding, and how they help our society in so many ways.”

 For more information about LAMP, visit the Department of Mathematics at Lamar.edu.