SEED Academy seminars teach local high school students about college admissions and financial aid


On October 18, Diane McKoy of Columbia University spoke to SEED Academy students about navigating college admissions. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person,” McKoy said.

The fall semester of Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy – a science and engineering enrichment program at MIT for students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Massachusetts – concluded Saturday, December 6 with project presentations and an award ceremony. While much of the semester focused around hands-on science and engineering coursework, the students also attended seminars to learn more about the college admissions and financial aid processes.

A place to grow

Diane McKoy of Columbia University Undergraduate Admissions spoke at one seminar on October 18 during which she offered advice to students on college admissions and the art of choosing the right university. Discussion highlights included the benefits of studying science and engineering in college and the opportunity for students to further enrich themselves by taking humanities classes and working in science labs. Students also discussed their interests in exploring fields outside of science and technology.

By pursuing paths in science or engineering at Columbia or anywhere else, according to McKoy, students will learn valuable skills needed later in their professional lives. McKoy herself dabbled in a few different courses of study during her time in college, learning as much as she could at Columbia before entering the workforce. “I was premed, prelaw, and pre-engineering by the time I graduated,” she said. For McKoy, a balanced education in science and engineering supported her as she moved through her career to where she is today.

McKoy also stressed the importance of seeking out an institution that will incite personal growth and individual passion. “Find the right place that will allow you to be challenged and be the best that you can be,” said McKoy. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person.”

For those interested in applying to Columbia, 5,000 internship opportunities await students enrolled in undergraduate education, as well as $900 million in research grants. SEED students also found through the event that the majority of undergraduates at Columbia find jobs in their fields of choice after graduation, a concern of many high school students entering college. SEED students left with confidence to apply to scholarships and the knowledge to strategically approach the college application process.

Personalized college guidance

In another seminar, Gabriela Gomez Coates of UAspire Boston, a non-profit focused on college access and affordability for area high school students, provided SEED participants with information about choosing the right school to fit needs and interests, building a network in college, and financial aid. Coates also led a discussion about the importance of researching and applying to scholarships. “Scholarships may take two or three or five hours, but the payoff is really good,” said Coates. Coates explained that colleges and universities have a large sum of revenue devoted each year to financial aid awards, which is why students need to do the appropriate amount of research when looking into and applying to schools.

Once scholarships and financial aid are awarded, students and their families need to review all aspects of their financial preparedness for college, Coates said. “UAspire sits down with you and your award letters and we talk about award money, work study, and where the gaps are,” said Coates.

UAspire plays a role in helping students comprehend their pre-college financial situation in a way that makes sense for their families and makes sure that they understand how to take action and appeal when necessary. Whatever students’ ideas and educational goals are, UAspire works to make them happen. “If this is your dream college, we’ll help you afford it,” said Coates. Because UAspire works hard to advance students in the direction of college, students are expected to reciprocate those efforts. “Juniors and seniors, you have a lot of academic responsibilities.”

—Sydney Lester


SEED Academy concludes semester with Graduation and Final Ceremony

“You have to believe the sky’s the limit. You can’t have limitations on your thoughts,” Dr. Yvonne Spicer, Ed.D. told students of MIT’s Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy at their Graduation and Final Ceremony on Friday, April 2.

Over 150 students, staff and family members filled the auditorium on 50 Vassar Street, where, as part of the ceremony, students showcased their work from the semester’s classes: Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Robotics, and Synthetic Biology.

Photos by Joel Laino.

Spicer, vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships for the National Center for Technological Literacy at the Museum of Science in Boston, was a keynote speaker at the event. With energetic flair, she detailed her experience as a worldwide advocate for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and offered advice and insight relating to this year’s theme, “Knowing Matters.”

“Know that failure is good,” she said. “Very rarely do we hear failure is good, but in engineering, it’s good. We want things to fail early. We don’t want things to be built and then fail.”

Spicer stressed the importance of graciousness, patience, persistence, evaluating choices, and having a vision. She emphasized that she was proud of all of the students and that their passion and commitment inspires her to go to work every day.

101 students completed the six-Saturday SEED Academy semester. This year’s graduating senior class included 21 seniors, many who will attend top universities in the fall, including MIT, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and Boston University.

“The seniors had really great enthusiasm this year,” said Jacob Rubens, a co-instructor for the Synthetic Biology and an MIT graduate student in microbiology. In Rubens’ class, students learned how to clone a gene and brainstormed innovative applications of bioengineering, such as developing plants that light up when adequately watered.

As juniors in the Robotics course, Antonio Santana and Keron Ali built and programmed robotic vehicles. “My favorite part was getting involved in activities,” Santana said. “The hard work paid off, and it was enjoyable to see work in action.”

Ali said his favorite part of SEED was learning about the different fields of engineering. “With engineering, you are making a connection to the outside world and doing something useful,” he said.

2014 SEED Academy College Attendance

2014 SEED Academy College Attendance


—Alexandra Koktsidis

SEED Academy instructor training fosters an inclusive learning community

Since the fall, Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy instructors and teaching assistants, along with some Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) administrative staff members, have participated in a series of workshops on how perceived stereotypes can become detrimental distractions for students in their classrooms. Bolstered by a generous grant from the 484 Phi Alpha Foundation, the training is part of OEOP’s increased focus on teacher training and professional development.

Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason of the Drennan Education Laboratory led SEED instructors in workshops on stereotype threat — the perceived risk of confirming a negative stereotype.

Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason, an instructor in the Drennan Education Laboratory at MIT, leads the training, which focuses on a phenomenon called stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is the perceived risk of confirming a negative stereotype, which can stem from attributes such as race or gender, but can also be related to less obvious differences among individuals.

“Racism and sexism are major issues in the world, but they’re not the only things that can affect learning,” Olivier-Mason says. “There’s just a lot more of a student’s personal experience that can get in the way.” Anything from a student’s learning style, to the clothes he wears, to his extracurricular activities can prevent him from being fully engaged in the classroom, Olivier-Mason says.

SEED Academy Electronics Instructor Joe Steinmeyer has witnessed subtle barriers to students’ engagement in his classroom. Steinmeyer often leverages music in his assigned projects to appeal to his students’ interests. It’s an effective technique that invigorates his students – who are high school seniors with busy schedules and external stressors – to bring a new level of energy to their projects. But sometimes, it can cause a hiccup in learning.

“There are always really interesting class dynamics about who’s playing what,” Steinmeyer says. “Some students always have really good underground hip hop and trade off all their tracks with each other. Others are nervous because they don’t have the same music choices, and maybe they think they don’t have as much musical taste.” Steinmeyer says this occasionally leads some students to be hesitant to test out their projects.

Steinmeyer counteracts his students’ insecurities by allowing them to form teams with their peers with whom they are most comfortable. He also emphasizes his own shortcomings to show that even MIT graduate students aren’t perfect. And he’s careful not to dismiss his students’ problems, especially by taking note of his vocal tone, when he provides feedback.

SEED Instructor Joe Steinmeyer (right) employs a number of techniques to address stereotype threat in his electronics classroom.

Steinmeyer’s response demonstrates two of the lessons from Olivier-Mason’s workshop. By being aware of his tone and content of his feedback, Steinmeyer is giving what education researchers describe as “wise criticism,” or criticism in which instructors tell their students that they are capable of attaining a high level of success or achievement. And by highlighting his own shortcomings, Steinmeyer is “changing the narrative” by demonstrating that people who struggle from time to time can still be successful.

The research on stereotype threat also suggests that changing the visual cues that students receive from textbooks and in the classroom to show that more people like them can be successful is an effective method of combating stereotype threat.

Through educating SEED Academy staff on the pitfalls of stereotype threat, Olivier-Mason hopes to improve learning experiences. “SEED students are chosen because they are high performers, and the pressure they’re under can be similar to that of undergrads at MIT,” she says. Armed with the skills to combat stereotype threat, she says, “Instructors can break down barriers that prevent students from taking on the identity of scientists in the classroom.”

—Nick Holden