Summer program supports inner-city teens in science

Signing agreement.SUNY Oswego and the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School have begun a partnership designed to help pave the way to careers in science fields for inner-city teens.

Dr. Fehmi Damkaci, assistant professor of chemistry at Oswego, piloted the program in July with four students from the academy.

Plans call for the program to grow to expose more students to more disciplines in the sciences, technology, engineering and math. “The idea is to expand this program to all sciences, not just chemistry,” Damkaci said.

The summer program’s goals mirror the aims of the college’s Possibility Scholars program and may groom some future participants in that year-round, four-year program.

“We will be educating students who are capable of doing high-skilled research,” in emerging fields like materials science, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, Damkaci said.

Long term, a goal of the early intervention summer program is to help retain science professionals in the Central New York region.

In July, Damkaci hosted four students recruited from the Syracuse Academy of Science in the month-long pilot “early intervention summer program.” Next summer, between 10 and 15 students from the school will arrive on campus to get hands-on science experience.

The pilot programs in 2009 and 2010 are laying the foundation for what Damkaci said he hopes will become a well-established, externally funded summer program for inner-city high schoolers in the STEM disciplines. Using preliminary data from these pilots, he said, he plans to apply for funding from the Honda Foundation and the National Science Foundation for future years.

The program will be open to students with two of three conditions: member of a low-income family, part of a minority group underrepresented in the sciences or a first-generation college student.

Participants will work with a teacher from their own school and an undergraduate or graduate student from Oswego for 10 weeks. Research groups will have weekly meetings in which students make presentations. High school students will be asked to present their research at the end of the program as well as prepare a research poster with their teacher to present at their high school.

“They don’t know real science, just textbook information,” said Damkaci, a chemistry professor who likens science to puzzle solving. “The more research they do, the more they get interested.”

The program also introduces the high school students to the college environment and all the opportunities it presents. They may sit in on college science courses and interact with college students involved in summer research on campus, including those in the college’s McNair and Possibility scholars programs.

For more information about SUNY Oswego’s Possibility Scholars Program, providing a debt-free college education for eligible students from the Syracuse and Oswego school districts, see

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PHOTO CAPTION: Agreement signing—Tolga Hayali of the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School and SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley on Dec. 4 signed an agreement between their institutions to engage high school students in a residential summer immersion program in the sciences on the Oswego campus. With them for the formal signing ceremony were two SAS students who were in a pilot version of the program last summer, Faith Britt and Catherine Graham, and Oswego chemistry professor Fehmi Damkaci. The three are also on the cover of the winter issue of the college’s alumni magazine, Oswego.

(Posted: Dec 08, 2009)