Rising senior Nana Ama Gyamfi-Kordie started her freshman year of high school during a global pandemic and is now starting her college application process in the shadow of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings against affirmative action and student debt relief.
For her and many other New York City teens, the path to college feels bleak. But at least one local university is broadening its access by reaching out early — to 10th and 11th graders — and showing how important it is to provide students with extra academic and financial support even before college.
Gyamfi-Kordie is among 65 high school students participating in a summer program run by the Center for K-12 STEM Education at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. Called ARISE (which stands for Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering), the program promises students a leg up, with hands-on training, mentoring, and experience — all for free, making it more accessible for students across the five boroughs. While other programs offer possible scholarships once accepted, the ARISE program makes it clear that a full scholarship and stipend will be offered with their acceptance.
The program lasts seven weeks and is designed to increase access to high-quality STEM learning experiences for all students, regardless of need. It’s one of three free high school summer programs at NYU Tandon’s Center for K-12 STEM Education, which has an emphasis on working with teens from groups underrepresented in STEM fields such as students of color, girls, and those from low-income backgrounds. Of the three free programs, ARISE is the only one that also offers a stipend to students.
The program requires a college-type application and multiple interview rounds. The 6% of students who make the cut go on to conduct college-level research, practice expository writing, learn scientific methods, and are partnered with a Tandon student ranging from undergraduates to postdocs.
“I had never met somebody else who wanted to be a biomedical engineer before this program,” Gyamfi-Kordie said with a huge smile.
A first-generation American whose family is from Ghana, she said her older sister is the reason she learned about ARISE.
“My sister is the first person to go to college in my family,” said Gyamfi-Kordie, who attends Democracy Prep Charter High School. “She’s been through the system, and she’s teaching me how to go through the system, too.”
In 2022, her sister insisted she apply for Code Next, a free Google computer science education program for Black, Latino, and Indigenous high school students.
Code Next pairs students with a Google mentor throughout their high school years. Gyamfi-Kordie’s Google Code Next mentor told her about NYU’s K-12 STEM programs.
Warren Axelman, a rising senior at Essex Street Academy in Manhattan, said that because of the pandemic, he didn’t take a math class during his freshman year. The ARISE program is helping students like him fill academic gaps.
“Ultimately, it put me behind academically. My school doesn’t offer physics, and we don’t have APs either. I wanted to come to ARISE so I could have the opportunities I haven’t had at my high school,” Axelman said.
Sandra Labriel, a student from Queens attending Manhattan’s Professional Performing Arts High School, said, “because of COVID-19, my school’s academics don’t feel as strong as they used to be so I’ve been doing the College Now courses offered through my high school.”
College Now, is a partnership between NYC public schools and CUNY in which 17 campuses offer college-level courses to all students at the 35 partner public high schools.
Last year, she took two college-level classes, adding six hours to her full-time school schedule. For her final ARISE project, she is focusing on oncology research, in remembrance of her grandmother.
Summer program offers scholarships and stipends
The largest one-year drop in college enrollment rates in over 30 years was recorded between 2019 and 2020, as a result of the pandemic. While there was a small uptick in 2022, lawmakers and economists across the country are still very concerned. Incentives or encouragement offered to students could make or break their interest in applying for college.
That’s why incentives offered by the ARISE program such as free MetroCards, a $750 stipend, and access to the discount dining halls are imperative. The university intends those perks to enable students from low-income backgrounds to have the same access to STEM education as their wealthier New York peers.
Having access to the dining hall makes a big difference for Labriel because the food is as tasty as the dozens of nearby restaurants, but half the price, she said.
“The disparity was so huge when I was in high school. When it came to STEM programs, there was NYU’s full scholarship program which also offered a stipend or other programs that cost $4,500 for just one week,” said Aysha Naveed, an NYU undergraduate in engineering and ARISE alumnus who returned to teach this summer.
“Not only would I not ask my parents for that kind of money, but I didn’t want to ask them. It was too much.”
Naveed, the youngest of five children, learned about NYU’s summer STEM program from her older sister. She believes that participating in the program enabled her to get a full ride to NYU, giving her a college experience without debt, family separation, or strain on her emotional well-being.
Being close to her family was just as important as being able to afford college. While she also received a full-ride offer to Smith College, she feared the potential exclusion and emotional distress attending a predominantly white institution could bring.
So she elected to stay in the city instead. Her ARISE mentor continued offering guidance through her remaining years of high school. Eventually, the mentor helped her pick her civil engineering major with a concentration in environmental engineering and a minor in social public policy as a full-ride scholar.
Program looks for students with a passion for science
During their final week in the summer program, ARISE students present their projects in a colloquium of their peers while their teachers and mentors grade them. Program Director Ben Esner said many of the students’ projects are considered college-level projects.
“I call it the virtuous cycle. High school students are benefiting, the faculty are benefiting from the program, the Ph.D. students are benefiting,” said Luann Williams-Moore, the program’s assistant director.
“The program contributes to NYU’s academic enterprise,” Esner said.
While the 2024 dates aren’t out yet, Wiliams-Moore said applications launch Thanksgiving week, and close on March 4.
Perfect grades don’t guarantee acceptance into the program, Esner and Williams-Moore said. They’re looking for well-rounded students who have demonstrated an interest in science but haven’t had all of the access to put that passion into practice.
“We’ve had students tell us they didn’t realize how much they struggled with writing until they got here,” said Williams-Moore. “That’s the kind of student we want to support, the type that might not be great at writing but it’s clear they love science.”
Eliana Perozo is a reporting intern at Chalkbeat New York. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.