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A new summer program pays students to improve math, science skills

Jocelyn Collado is pursing a degree in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Jocelyn Collado is pursing a degree in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. | Provided photo

A new summer program offered by Wright College will pay students to improve their math and science skills with hopes of bolstering the number of African-Americans, Hispanics and women in engineering and computer science fields.

The program, named Building Bridges into Engineering and Computer Science, is recruiting its first 35 high school seniors who are interested in these fields and have applied to the college’s engineering program but weren’t accepted. Students accepted into the summer program will be paid $10 an hour while spending 100 hours in the classroom taking intensive math and science courses.

The launch of the program is a result of the community college receiving $1.43 million from the National Science Foundation to recruit those under-represented in engineering and computer science.

Students who struggle in entering these fields are African-Americans and Hispanics, said Doris Espiritu, director of Wright’s engineering program. She hopes this program will lay the groundwork needed to increase diversity in these sectors.

“Also, minorities and under-represented populations often feel like they don’t belong so we will be doing a lot of intervention that makes students feel like they do,” said Espiritu. “We are building double-bridges from high school to Wright and then from us to the university.”

Once the bridge program is completed, students will have the opportunity to apply to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Engineering Pathway program at Wright College. The program guarantees admissions to the university’s engineering program after students receive their associate’s degree from the city college.

Erick Tobar, 19, is a product of the engineering program at Wright and is finishing his last semester before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tuition-free.

Tobar, an undocumented immigrant aspiring to be a civil engineer, was worried he wouldn’t be able to go to a university over a year ago. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have options, he had five of them, it was just something his family couldn’t afford.

“We just didn’t have the money,” Tobar said. “My dad works at a restaurant, and my mom is a janitor.”

Wright’s engineering program allowed Tobar to take classes he could afford with his own full-time job and without depending on his parent’s income.

Jocelyn Collado, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Wright’s pathway program gave her an opportunity to find her true passion. She believes the new summer program will give prospective students their chance to find themselves as well.

“Not everyone is ready for college right out of high school,” Collado said. “I think this is a really great way to show that faculty cares not only about students graduating but also giving opportunities to everyone.”

The deadline for high school seniors to apply to the bridge program is March 15.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.