CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Area high school students and graduates interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines benefited from two Prairie State College activities this summer.

Both the Summer Science and Math Camp and Summer Bridge Program are STEM@PSC programs made possible by funds from U.S. Department of Education grants.

The Summer Science and Math Camp is a free four-week experience for students in the PSC district entering their junior or senior year of high school who are interested in pursuing STEM majors after graduation. The goal is to help them advance their understanding in science and math, learn about current science and math research areas, and research STEM career paths.

While at PSC this summer, students participated in classroom discussions, group projects, labs, and field trips that brought together the topics of chemistry, physics, biology, math, and additional special topic areas. Participating students visited a water treatment facility, spoke with scientists and extracted DNA at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and spoke with scientists and participated in several hands-on activities at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont.

The program was organized by Christine Brooms, associate professor of chemistry, and Natalie McGathey, assistant professor of math.

“This is an enrichment activity we offer to the students in our area intended to showcase what we do at PSC,” McGathey said. “We want to inspire students to look beyond what they are learning in high school.”

Crete-Monee High School senior Natasha Rice said participating in the camp not only uncovered areas of study she has not been exposed to in high school, but also helped her narrow in on a focus for a major after she graduates from high school in May.

“I always liked math, and had taken an engineering class in high school,” she said. “This camp really got me thinking about pursuing a career in it.”

Rice is enrolled in the Early College Program at PSC, taking dual credit classes in economics, English, calculus, and a college success seminar, in addition to an AP physics class at Crete-Monee. She hopes to study computer science or math, or biological engineering after graduation.

The Summer Bridge Program is a free program intended for incoming freshmen students interested in STEM majors who are enrolled or enrolling at PSC, and whose COMPASS Placement Test math scores were lower than expected. The goal is to assist these students in preparing to retake the math section of the test and get placed into the correct course, thereby decreasing the amount of time it takes to graduate PSC. Once they’ve received their new scores, students meet with their STEM advisers to work on a two-year plan towards graduation.

Of the 25 students that participated in this summer’s program, half increased their COMPASS Placement Test math scores, with some jumping more than one course, saving $464 for each class skipped.

“The goal of the Summer Bridge Program is to get these students on the right track before the semester starts,” McGathey said.

“It also helps us identify great students,” she added, saying that standout students from the program have been hired as tutors and Peer Led Team Learning leaders.

Instrumental in running the Summer Bridge Program were Associate Professors of Mathematics Brian Garant and Melanie Eddins-Spencer.

Marian Catholic High School 2013 graduate Zachary Einert said the Summer Bridge Program was necessary for him after his first attempt at the math section of the COMPASS Placement Test placed him in an intermediate algebra course.

Having excelled at math throughout high school, Einert said he thinks he underestimated how difficult the test would be.

“The program is an immense help in refreshing your math skills after summer break,” he said. “It is also a real money and time saver for me since I placed three classes higher after retaking the test.”

Not only did Einert place into calculus for his first semester at PSC, but he also was selected as a math tutor in the Student Success Center. A STEM@PSC student, Einert plans to study chemical engineering.

STEM@PSC is dedicated to student success by building a supportive learning community, beginning with first-year students and guiding them throughout degree completion and the transfer process. For additional questions regarding STEM@PSC, contact Claudine Holaska at (708) 709-3635 or email


Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.