Learning + fun = MSL

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Two high-schoolers talk about how the UW Tacoma Math-Science Leadership program furthered their interest in STEM and youth leadership.

Annual program interests area teens in three important areas

Math is cool. Science is fun. And being a leader is awesome.

That's the take-away for teens in the Institute of Technology's Math, Science and Leadership program at the University of Washington Tacoma. Now in its seventh year, MSL immerses 120 local middle and high school students in a curriculum that mixes serious learning with fun. The program's last week for this year's summer session is Aug. 10-15. The students also gather once a month to explore math, science and leadership subjects.

Students can apply to enter at any grade from 7th through 12th, and are encouraged to return each year until they reach graduation. Along the way, they build robots, shoot off rockets, study the DNA of blood, take and analyze air samples, prepare for college, write computer programs, study crabs at low tide and do community service-among many other activities.

MSL helps students build confidence, learn responsibility and practice problem-solving skills. Throughout the program, participants are exposed to college campuses and encouraged to realize their dreams through a college career.

"Some of the most important lessons students learn are about connected networks and how their actions affect others," said Adrienne Ione, the program's coordinator. MSL planners try to relate the lessons with real life. "That makes it so much more interesting," she said. "We are always adding new components and trying new routes in an attempt to make it exciting each year."

Meet two MSLers

Jeffery, almost 19, recently graduated from Clover Park High School in Lakewood and will be a freshman at UW Tacoma in the fall. He wants to be a mechanical engineer. Rebecca, 17, a junior at Charles Wright Academy in the fall, wants to be a dentist. Both plan to get their degrees from the University of Washington, and they can't wait to get started. MSL has helped to put them on that path.


Jeffery started with MSL in 9th grade. It was a good way to keep from being bored and getting into trouble, he said. Now he's a volunteer with the MSL program, helping to keep 7th graders in line. He serves as a mentor and role model, an example of how good leaders behave.

"It shows how much I've grown up," he says, comparing himself in 7th grade to this year's students. "I take a step back and think, 'This is a different me, even from last year.'"

MSL has helped him grow as a leader, Jeffery said. He takes on leadership roles in school activities and sees himself as more mature than some of his classmates.

Jeffery said he has grown apart from the friends he used to hang with, and has made friends with a different group at school. "I found out there are people who want to excel in life and people who don't plan on excelling," he said.

MSL has given Jeffery a chance to polish his math and science skills. The calculus he learned at MSL gave him a head start in the subject in school. "They made it fun," he says. "When we studied anti-derivatives, they made a game out of it." And he was exposed to some things that his high school classes didn't cover much, such as the periodic table. He got to do cool science experiments, such as pouring liquid nitrogen onto various objects to see what would happen.

Jeffery plans to attend UW Tacoma for his first two college years, and then transfer to UW Seattle to finish his mechanical engineering degree. Spending summers on the UW Tacoma campus has made him very comfortable with the transition to university life.

He hopes to be the first in his family to complete a bachelor's degree. When he gets his parchment, Jeffery plans to return to his community and contribute by working with young people. "I see kids that were like me, and I want to help them," he said. He recommends MSL to everyone. "It opens new doors and new opportunities," he said. "It gives you a network you didn't have before."


Rebecca, a thoughtful and poised girl, also started MSL in 9th grade and has returned every year since. She started the program because her mom wanted her to do something in the summer. She liked math and science, and she thought it would give her a head start at school.

"The things I learned in MSL really helped in school," Rebecca said. "The teachers would ask if anybody knew about something-whatever they were talking about-and I'd be the only one who would know because I learned it at MSL."

Her favorite part this year is math. She'll start in pre-calculus classes this fall, and feels she already has a solid grounding in the subject. "And it helped me get used to getting up in the morning for school," she added.

The MSL program runs through Aug. 14, culminating in student presentations of their class projects from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.tacoma.uw.edu/tech/msl or call Adrienne Ione at 253-692-4539.

The program could not exist without the generous support of its donors, which this year include Discuren Foundation, Wells Fargo, Intel Foundation, The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and the Florence B. Kilworth Foundation.

August 10, 2009