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Better Living Through Chemistry—and Math

December 29, 2006

Maija Sipola, a sophomore from Embarrass, Minnesota, wants to major in geology, but wasn’t sure her small-town high school had prepared her for Carleton’s intense science curriculum.

Students like Sipola are the reason Carleton faculty members designed the Science Scholars Workshop, a two-week winter break program for freshmen and sophomores with weak high school science and math backgrounds. The program helps those students build their problem solving and inquiry skills and develop strong working relationships with science faculty.

Funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the program is in its second year. Its five-member faculty team works with the scholars for three hours a day on problem-solving skills. Other activities include internships with math and science professors, lectures, and dinners with faculty and staff members.

The program allowed freshman Melissa Abecasis from La Paz, Bolivia, to work with associate math professor Bob Dobrow in analyzing a “Lancet” study of civilian wartime deaths in Iraq. Besides the internship and the chance to brush up her science skills, Abecasis valued the program for the friendships it allowed her to form. “I know those students and professors will help me with any science issues I face,” she says. Sipola also found the two-week course had raised her comfort level with professors.

That’s just what geology professor Mary Savina was hoping would come out of the Science Scholars Program. “I’m most concerned that students feel they can navigate the science and math departments,” she says, “and that they can ask the faculty questions.”