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Texas Governor’s School serves STEM students

Seventy high-achieving Texas high school juniors and seniors and incoming college freshmen are attending the Texas Governor’s School at Lamar University. Designed to help under-represented students achieve academic and professional success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the three-week resident program acquaints students with a variety of courses and concepts that will serve as a bridge to their college careers.

Since 1990, the Texas Governor’s School has brought students into a college setting and let them experience university life first-hand. “I like the fact that we get to experience the college setting with kids that have some of the same views and interests as us,” said Daina Rodriguez, graduating senior from William B. Travis High School in Richmond.

Dorothy Sisk, the program’s director, said TGS contains a built-in leadership program. The three-tiered program accepts incoming high school juniors as first-year scholars. Sisk said from those students, 10 to 15 are selected to be junior counselors the following year. Of the junior councilors, ten are selected to be the next group of senior scholars.

Abel Perez, graduating senior from Fort Worth Polytechnic and TGS senior counselor, said the program instills a true desire to become a campus and community leader.

“This program really brings out your leadership potential,” he said. “That’s why I am here this year as a senior counselor, to give that back to the new students what my senior counselors instilled in me.”

Maya Fitzpatrick, junior at Steele High School in Cibolo, said she found the three-tiered framework beneficial in navigating the program.

“When you first come in they put you into what they call a ‘family,’” she said. “Each family has a junior and senior counselor. They really are there for you. You can go to them with anything, whether it’s a problem with a class or you just need help with something, they are there to help guide you and help get you to your classes.”

TGS never leaves students with idle time. Throughout the day, students attend a variety of STEM-related classes such as pre-calculus, marine biology, earth science and robotics, with an elective activity in the afternoon such as theatre, dance, or self-defense. Courses are taught by university instructors and members of the private sector and serve as an introduction to the types of material they will learn in college in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

Cody VanZandt, High Island High School senior, said the various activities give one the opportunity to learn something new. VanZandt chose dance as his elective activity.

“I am an abysmal dancer,” he said. “A menace really – but I’m learning how to dance, and am really beginning to enjoy it.  If you have any sort of academic curiosity, this program really feeds that.”

Terrill Davis, senior at Ozen Academy in Beaumont, said he plans to go to college for drama and psychology. Davis, who chose psychology of the criminal mind and drama as parts of his course load, said the courses offered at TGS have helped him get a better understanding of both of his chosen fields.

“I think if you take the psychology class you can learn what a criminal does and what his motives are,” he said. “So if you are in theatre and you need to be a criminal or a serial killer, it will be easier to get into that role because you will have the perfect background information.”

Part of the program’s success is due to the ability of the instructors to present the course material in a way that students can immediately apply their knowledge through hands on activities. The geometry course, for example, includes the building of architectural models. This requires critical thinking about how to engineer models according to where students plan to place them in a real world setting, the geography and weather patterns of the area, as well as cultural trends in architecture. Sisk said in this way, the program encourages students to make connections between fields and get a broader perspective of how things work.

Sarah Draper, junior at AC Jones High School in Beeville said that she was pleasantly surprised with the framework of the program. “I thought it was going to be a bunch of normal classes, but it turned out to be much more than that,” she said. “I feel like this is the best camp I have been to so far. Everything here is so interesting. It is a lot more in-depth than anything else I have been to.”

For more information about the Texas Governor’s School, visit the College of Education and Human Development at lamar.edu.