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"SAY YES" Workshop Brings College Experience to Elementary School Children

Richard Tapia (left) with teachers, students, parents, and mentors in the "Say Yes to Youngster's Future" workshop at Rice University. The workshop provided the students with some insights into career and educational opportunities.

On February 19, 1994, the "Say Yes to a Youngster's Future" workshop was held at Rice University to give students and their parents a chance to find out what educational and career opportunities were available in science and mathematics, with the goal of making them feel more comfortable in pursuing these opportunities. More than 85 people participated in the program, which was supported by Shell Oil Company, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), and the National Urban Coalition.

The participating students came from the Eighth Avenue Elementary School in Houston, TX, a school with a predominantly Hispanic enrollment. Students participated in several hands-on mathematics activities held around campus. They took part in a robotics demonstration, drew pictures of large granite stones that were situated at 45, 90, and 180 degrees, and witnessed the physics building's "whispering walls," where sound travels easily through the curvature of the walls.

"The mathematics activities were fun because they involved things that were physically around the students as they walked around campus," said Jernine Wagner, a consultant with the Houston Independent School District who helped organize the workshop and similar ones at the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. "Usually, the only place students see mathematics is in a textbook." Nationally, the "Say Yes" program has participants from 31 schools in Houston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

CRPC faculty and students gave campus tours and demonstrations for the students and acted as mentors. Several undergraduate students in the CRPC's "Spend a Summer with A Scientist" (SaS) program also participated as mentors/guides. CRPC researcher Richard Tapia, who helped to organize the workshop, talked to the children and their parents beforehand and accompanied them as they walked around the campus. "We all thank Anne Papakonstantinou for sharing with us her wonderful Rice campus tour," said Tapia. "It exposed us to the mathematics hidden well within Rice buildings and the Rice grounds. The students were amazed and excited at learning that mathematics actually lives outside the classroom. We all felt that we were living a Rice version of Alice in Wonderland."

"The workshop was about more than just improving math skills," said Wagner. "The overall experience of coming to Rice is what was most important. For many of these children, this was the first time that they had seen a university. They had no idea what it would be like to go to college, much less have any plans to do so. Through this workshop, they met and became friends with the undergraduates in the program and had fun doing mathematics activities in the process. This experience has made college a more reachable goal to these students." Many of these children, Wagner noted, are keeping in touch with the undergraduates through letters.

Wagner also mentioned other aspects of the workshop that made it unique. "The fact that parents were involved really made a difference," she said. Volunteers from Shell came to spend time with the children whose parents could not attend. "Another important aspect of the program was the mix of children who participated. There were students from kindergarten all the way up to fifth grade."

Like the CRPC's SaS program and the "Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness" Workshop (other programs that are organized through the guidance of Richard Tapia), the "Say Yes to a Youngster's Future" workshop attempted to motivate students to pursue their interests in science, engineering, and mathematics.

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