West Windsor, N.J. – Students from Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC) Upward Bound, an educational program for Trenton high school students, shared their experimental designs to cap off the Princeton University Materials Academy (PUMA) on Friday, Aug. 8. The event, hosted at MCCC’s James Kerney Campus (JKC), also included robotics presentations by members of Upward Bound’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) summer program.
PUMA provides a hands-on learning experience in which students work directly with Princeton University faculty on STEM projects. The program is comprehensive, in that the students begin by learning science and technology concepts, draft their outlines and methodology and follow through with experimentation of their designs.
Additionally, undergraduates and graduates from Princeton’s science majors introduced PUMA attendees to educational and career opportunities available to students who have goals in STEM fields.
“The staff and faculty at PUMA and Upward Bound work hard to make sure these students have a good idea of their potential futures in STEM fields,” said Stacy Denton, Director of Upward Bound at MCCC. “These programs are about access. Upward Bound kicks down the doors so that our students get a fair shot like everyone else.”
Five groups of PUMA students opened the day with showcases on material sciences. Casey Fortson, whose group presented “Testing Strength of Gypsum Molds for Bone Replacement,” said that his time at Princeton was eye-opening.
“This project was great,” Fortson said. “We had the chance to see into the realm of science at an Ivy League level. That’s not something many of my classmates have the opportunity to do.” Fortson added that he’d like to use this experience as a springboard into biomedical research.
On the STEM side, which was led by instructors Joshua Duncan and Telly Brown, Nason St. Clair and his group took part in a project to build a motion-detecting robot.
“This was the first experience many of us had in robotics,” St. Clair said, adding that the assignment involved aspects of coding, soldering and electrical engineering.
“Everyday life involves so many stem concepts. From cellphones to food, organic and inorganic materials all relate back to STEM.”
Not every student found themselves hoping to continue their education in the field they studied this summer. PUMA attendee Blessing Chidiking said that her project on dye absorption won’t be what she follows in her post-secondary education.
“But I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world,” Chidiking said. “I want to study Nursing in college, and so many of the skills and principles I picked up here will be useful to me once I graduate.”
The PUMA and Upward Bound STEM programs were supported by the Smith Family Foundation, which provides funding and Transformative Leadership Development workshops to Trenton based organizations.
“The Smith family has a long legacy of involvement with Upward Bound,” Denton said. “Many of the Smiths are graduates of these very programs,” she said.
Upward Bound administers a variety of programs for students from underrepresented demographics throughout the year, leading up to a graduation ceremony in June. After graduation, students have enrolled in college at MCCC, as well as at four-year institutions like Kean University, Ramapo University, Stockton University, Caldwell University, and Rider University.