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MSEN opens doors of opportunity for students
Kesha Williams
November 22, 2010

Elizabeth City State University

A recent NBC news report revealed that American students rank far below students in other industrialized nations in math skills. Their source, a Harvard University study, report sponsored by Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance  showed that only   6 percent of American high school students (class of 2009) have advanced math skills. The report concluded today’s students will face steep competition for jobs in the future that require advanced math skills.

While chilling, the new report merely echoes what educators have long known -- that closing the gap will require extra effort and classes on the part of our students Elizabeth City State University, is one of many organizations working toward a solution. In fact, it has been working to improve students’ math skills for 25 years.

Through the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network (NC-MSEN) Pre-College Program, students are receiving the help they needThe program is held at seven sites across North Carolina and serves approximately 1,845 middle and high school students. The purpose of the program is to increase the number of students selecting college majors that will prepare them for math and science related careers. The program at ECSU serves students from Bertie, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan and Camden Counties. Students gather for lessons in math, science, English Literature. A career awareness session helps students identify careers where those skills are required.

Thanks to a new grant, the NASA/NC-MSEN SPACE (Students Preparing to Advance into Careers in Engineering), additional funds became available to enhance student instruction and improve academic performance in science and math. It allows 210 ninth graders across the state and 34 at the ECSU site, to travel to places that will add value to their classroom instruction. The students at ECSU visited the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton for a view of the relevant careers where their skills will be valued. For nearly a dozen Saturdays, from the fall to the spring, students spend 200 hours engaged in intensive, hands-on classes where concepts relevant to engineering, astronomy, physics and robotics are taught.

Milton Bond, director of the MSEN program at ECSU, said the program opens a world of opportunity to students who previously viewed traditional math and science classes as simply another set of required courses.

"The recent (SPACE) grant allows us to take more trips that expose students to the many careers in math and science," Bond said. "The students have worked with LEGO robotic kits to explore science concepts such as distance, time and space. We look for exercises that will challenge our students."

Students are selected based on teacher recommendations and their grades. In addition to math and science classes, the Saturday sessions include classes on career awareness.

Bond said that MSEN supplements instruction provided in the classroom and helps students improve their skills in mathematicsa subject many students dread.

Mary Pitman has seen vast improvements in her son, Jesse, from his participation in the program.

"MSEN has done a lot to show Jesse the benefits of a college education and his motivation for grades has improved a lot," Pitman said. "He is taking honors biology and honors geometry this year, and he is now on a fast track for college. He is considering a career teaching science."

Pittman said she learned about MSEN when Jesse was in the sixth grade. Because he’s an only child, she thought the experience in the program could not only help him academically, but also be socially enriching. Pittman, admits the Saturday sessions with MSEN instructors are a sacrifice for the recreational activities youths often reserve for Saturday. However, she is pleased by the academic advancements her son has made and recommends the program for other youths who want to excel.

"The program has been great for Jesse. The opportunities for travel, and the ability to sample campus life have been particularly beneficial," Pittman said.

Jesse indicated many times last year that he had a leg up in his weekday classes because MSEN had often covered the material in previous sessions, Pittman said.

"I would love to see these programs expanded so that every student could have the chance to participate. I am sure it would boost graduation rates and college attendance rates, and help close the academic gap between the United States and other developed countries."

Her son Jesse, agrees the sessions are worth the sacrifice.

"I am really excited about going to a state college in North Carolina. There are scholarship opportunities for kids who participate in this program, the summer sessions are totally awesome."