Students of Color SMASHing Expectations


(All photos by Elisa Batista: SMASH students enjoy jokes by their funny electronics teacher.)

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Earlier this month, I was invited to Stanford University to check out a math, science and engineering summer program geared towards local high school students of color. The program, called Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH), educated 80 students on the Stanford campus and 80 students at the University of California in Berkeley campus, of which all were students of color and 75 percent were first-generation college-bound and 75 percent qualified for the free school lunch program.

Because of the low-income status of most of the students, the program, which is eight years old, provides free housing, a weekly $20 stipend and the promise of $500 towards college for every summer the students complete SMASH coursework. There are numerous components of this program that make it a success that should be emulated in all high schools across the country.

One, is its emphasis on a high-quality science and math education. The students, who tend to come from struggling high schools in the local area, get to use donated equipment like Apple laptops and graphing calculators not to mention the best university laboratories in the country.

Two, the students are not only taught by college teaching assistants and top-notch high school teachers in the area, but they are taught by adults that look like them. I was struck by how all the teachers that I observed were men of color. How refreshing to see teachers of color outside of the Spanish department!

Three, the students receive not only help in catching up on their subject matter by dedicated staff, but also aid in applying to colleges like how to fill out a financial aid form. Not surprisingly, the program has achieved its goals to not only get their students into college, but keep them there and majoring in the sciences.

“The tutors were in the dorms and available during study hours,” said Valerie Onuoha, who graduated from the SMASH program two years ago and is now a sophomore at the University of California in Davis. “You know what to expect in college.”

Desiree Seales, a sophomore at the University of California in Los Angeles who also graduated from the SMASH program two years ago, said she still keeps in touch with Ms. Jackson who was both her math teacher and a mentor.

“She always asked, ‘how are you? How is life?’” Seales said. “That makes a difference to a student.”


(Photo: SMASH alumni Valerie Onuoha and Desiree Seales. Onuoha has two sisters who are also SMASH alumni.)

The students, who are self-motivated and have shown promise in the maths and sciences, are recommended to the program by their teachers and/or guidance counselors. To learn more about how to apply to the program, or make a donation to the program, here is the link.  

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