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Incoming freshmen hone math skills in special summer program at Appalachian

summerbridge_t.jpgBOONE—Aimee Messier had second thoughts about spending part of her summer in an academic camp for entering freshmen at Appalachian State University.

Now she is glad she did. Messier of Concord says the experience in the Appalachian Undergraduate Academy of Science’s summer bridge program has helped prepare her for her first year at Appalachian.

Fred Perkins, left, Nation Gould, Kristie Cooper and Latacha Cauthen_t2.jpg
Incoming freshmen in the Appalachian Undergraduate Academy of Science’s summer bridge program at Appalachian State University use the “Monte Carlo Method” to determine the area of an unknown shape by finding its ratio to that of a known shape. The students dropped a specific number of lentils on top of the two shapes and counted the number of lentils that landed on each. The ratio of these two numbers was used to estimate the area of the unknown shape. Students compared their results with that obtained by a computer program, which used a random number generator and probability statistics to estimate the area. Students working on the problem are Fred Perkins, left, Nation Gould, Kristie Cooper and Latacha Cauthen. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

Jasmine Ammon, left, and Aimee Messier.jpgJasmine Ammon, left, and Aimee Messier sort lentils that will be used in an exercise to determine the area of an unknown shape. Known as the “Monte Carlo Method,” the exercise helps students understand calculus principles. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

That’s exactly what program organizers had hoped when they developed the program that is designed to strengthen the calculus skills that math and science majors need.

Entering freshmen who intend to major in science or math and who needed to strengthen their math skills were invited to apply to the three-week summer program. Space was limited to 20 students.  Each earned seven college credits during the summer program: four in college-level pre-calculus and three in a First Year Seminar course.

“When I read an e-mail about the program, I didn’t really think about it at first,” Messier said. “Then I decided it would be a really good opportunity.”

While some of the participants had taken calculus or pre-calculus in high school, they quickly learned college-level courses are different. “After taking advanced placement calculus in high school, I thought I’d be ready to jump right into calculus,” Messier said. “It has really helped me get into the mindset of college and college classes.”

Cory Hoyes of Avery County plans to major in computer science and astro physics at Appalachian. “I found that I had forgotten a lot of things I had learned in high school pre-calculus and I am having to re-learn it,” he said. “This is helping us get ready for fall semester.”

Hoyes says his shortened summer vacation has been worth it. “What it all boils down to is you are going to spend three weeks here, but in those three weeks you are going to make friends that you are going to keep all through your four years in college.”

The Academy of Science is designed to increase and retain students majoring in astronomy, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics. Program directors involved with the summer bridge program were Associate Professor Rahman Tashakkori, computer science; Assistant Professor Nicole Bennett, chemistry; Professor Barry Kurtz, computer science; Assistant Professor Donavan Leonard, physics and astronomy; Assistant Professor Trina Palmer, mathematical science; Assistant Professor Libby Puckett, chemistry; and Professor Phillip Russell, physics and astronomy.

“Most of the students in the summer bridge program did not take a pre-calculus course in high school, which is a pre-requisite to college calculus. And you can not be a science major without proper preparation for calculus,” Tashakkori said. “Some of the students took pre-calculus, but didn’t score well on the math portion of the SAT. Others in the program were interested in improving their calculus skills.”

Computer science major Fred Perkins from Durham said the program introduced him to the academic challenges of earning a college degree. “I have seen that the effort that I put into studying has improved greatly compared to what I did in high school,” he said. “This program helps prepare you for the course load in college.”

Goals for the summer bridge program included building a community of students, faculty members and student peers, preparing students for college calculus and improving students’ problem-solving skills, Tashakkori said.

Latacha Cauthen from Charlotte says the summer experience has honed her study skills. “My study habits have improved a lot since I have been here,” she said. “Future students planning to attend the program should be prepared to learn how you learn, because a lot of times you don’t realize how you actually learn the material.” Cauthen plans to major in chemistry. “I also learned more about what Appalachian has to offer and got to learn campus, so that I’ll be that much more ready when fall semester begins.”

In addition to working with students in the classroom, each week two faculty from the summer program met students for breakfast each morning. Faculty also accompanied students on outdoor activities, such as whitewater rafting, hiking or rock climbing. Peer mentors lived on campus with the students and were in the classes and study halls to help students with problems.

“Without exception, all of the students commented on the importance of establishing teamwork through activities such as these,” Tashakkori said.

“I think it’s a great experience,” Messier said. “It’s a transition from high school to college. It’s a great experience to figure out what college is actually like before you are here in the fall and have to do everything for yourself. It may not seem like a lot of fun to be in classes all day, but in the long run it is great because when I start classes in the fall I will already know people and I will know exactly where my classes are and I’m going to have people here who I know can help me.”

The program is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant paid for the student’s summer tuition, room and board, and each participant received $300 after completing the program.

Support also was provided by Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs and Division of Student Development.

Tashakkori hopes to expand the program to five weeks next summer and increase the number of students interested in physics and math.

“We set the bar very high,” Tashakkori said. “We have strong expectations for the students in the program. We want to make sure students know that if they work hard, they won’t fall behind, and they will succeed in class.”

For more information about the Appalachian Undergraduate Academy of Science, visit http://www.cs.appstate.edu/step/.

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