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07/12/2007 07:00:00

Caltech's YESS Program Helps to Increase Diversity Among Young Science Students

PASADENA, Calif.--This summer 30 of the brightest high school students in the country are attending the California Institute of Technology's Young Engineering and Science Scholars (YESS) program. The program brings together some of the most talented students who have a passion for science and engineering and exposes them to scientific research and methodology.

Many programs exist for gifted youth, and students in Caltech's YESS program are typically from populations that are traditionally underrepresented in science-Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Pacific Islanders-as well as from other groups. All students who feel that they might benefit from the program are encouraged to apply.

These exceptional students are juniors and seniors in high school who have demonstrated a high aptitude in math, engineering, and the sciences. Most of the students have already begun their studies in calculus, physics, biology, engineering, and computer science.

Admission to the YESS program is competitive: these students were selected from over 450 applicants. The students participating in this year's program come from as far away as Natchitoches, Louisiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and Sugar Land, Texas. Many come from math and science magnets and from prep schools across the country and are the top students in their high-school class.

The YESS students participate in interdisciplinary scientific study during the intensive three-week program, covering molecular biology, neuroscience, engineering design, and applied physics.

To encourage the participants to pursue professional careers in science and technology, the YESS program also exposes them to seminars given by leading Caltech faculty and experts and provides an in-depth tour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Program participants have the opportunity to interact not only with other talented students, but also with renowned Caltech faculty and JPL engineers and scientists.

Program manager for the Office for Minority Student Education, Luz Rivas, who oversees the YESS program, says, "Our goal is to provide an extraordinary research opportunity that will help to shape and contribute to the futures of these bright students. The program focuses on introducing and exposing the students to science; they are encouraged to maintain their interest in science and to pursue careers in science and engineering. Our program is exceptional because it provides high-school students an invaluable opportunity to learn about the research conducted by preeminent Caltech faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students. And, hopefully, we will encourage some of these young people to attend Caltech." The program is free of charge to participants, though they must pay transportation costs, if possible. During the program, students live in residential halls on campus. The YESS program is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Although the program is intense, the students' rigorous schedules do include a bit of fun-for instance, the "egg catapult" design competition. Applying recently learned laws of physics and engineering, along with ingenuity and creativity, teams of students design and build catapults that launch raw eggs 20 feet and whose success is determined by the distance and accuracy of the eggs' trajectory. It is a fun, lighthearted activity in an invaluable program for talented young students and budding future scientists.

Written by Deborah Williams-Hedges