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Georgetown-Based Foundation Endows Math and Science Mentoring Program

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    The SMArT program pairs local elementary students with Southwestern students to investigate topics the elementary school students would like to learn more about.

SMArT program pairs Southwestern students with elementary school students to learn about the process of discovery

A math and science mentoring program for elementary school students in Georgetown will be funded permanently, thanks to a gift from a Georgetown-based foundation.

A $30,000 gift from the W.D. Kelley Foundation will enable Southwestern University to establish an endowment for the SMArT Program, a mentoring program that pairs Southwestern University students with local third, fourth or fifth graders who participate in the  Extended School Enrichment program offered by the Georgetown Independent School District. The program rotates among different elementary schools in GISD.

Each semester, the Southwestern mentors guide the children through the process of formulating a scientific question and devising a method to answer that question. Pairs meet weekly for nine weeks and then the elementary students present their projects at an Achievement Party at the end of each semester.

The SMArT (Science and Math Achiever Teams) program first began at Southwestern in 2007 under the direction of Romi Burks, an associate professor of biology. Burks had been involved with a similar program as an undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago.

Burks said the program serves as a valuable experience for both the Southwestern students and the elementary school students they mentor.

“Our students gain experience about the quality of science education and how it can be improved,” she said. “And the program has the potential to spark the interest and imagination of the younger students in ways that have a far-reaching impact.”

The SMArT program currently supports 10-12 projects a semester. Projects from the 2011-2012 academic year included such topics as “How do planets get their color?” “Animal camouflage in their habitats,” “How do snakes move?” “Deep sea volcanic rifts,” and “Shark anatomy and physiology.”

Although the program focuses on scientific research, Southwestern students from all majors are encouraged to apply to be mentors. Each semester a Southwestern student also serves as the program facilitator.

Burks said having a dedicated funding source for the program will enable her to focus on program development and student recruitment, as well as writing papers about the program that may encourage other small colleges to start their own SMArT partnerships with local elementary schools.