I have been quite fortunate over the years. I have received numerous opportunities that afforded me opportunities to go far and do amazing things. One such opportunity was the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS). Much to my horror and sadness, I have learned that Pennsylvania has cancelled PGSS due to lack of resources. This brings me tremendous sadness.
During the summer before my senior year, I attended PGSS at Carnegie Mellon with 89 other students from around Pennsylvania. We were selected based on our potential and given a free summer at CMU to focus on science. We were taught classes that we weren’t taught in high school – molecular biology, inorganic chemistry, discrete math, computer science, modern physics. (A group of us teamed up together to master these topics by specializing in one and making sure that we could teach everyone else in our group what was going on when we collaboratively did homework together. There were five girls and five boys in our team; I was the girl rep for discrete math.)
For me, this program was critical. Up until then, my science classes had been beyond basic. This was the first time that I felt challenged by science and math and I LOVED it. Going into college, I decided to study math because of my experience at PGSS. (I quickly switched to computer science upon entrance when I realized that CS involved more fun math.)
What I got from PGSS went beyond the curricular structure. I loved the opportunity to spend a summer with brilliant folks who liked to solve puzzles and THINK. I developed friendships that played a critical role in keeping me motivated my senior year. I spent many weekends traveling to Philly and other places to meet up with the folks that I met at PGSS. My homecoming and prom dates were both from PGSS. I traveled by rail across the USA with a PGSS person after high school. While I was getting crapped on by my classmates, PGSS folks were keeping me sane and strong. (And they were also part of the reason that I got more deeply involved in Internet culture.) Governor’s School also taught me to function on all-nighters and have fun while working in the lab.
More than anything, Governor’s School made visible what college could be like if I went to a school surrounded by smart people. (It was through one of the people at PGSS that I learned about Brown.) When people would ask me what PGSS was, I jokingly called it the “ticket to the Ivy League.” For those of us who didn’t come from boarding and prep schools, PGSS was often a free pass into institutions that might have otherwise ignored us and our public school background.
Of course, this is also the challenge. Many of the PGSS folks that I know didn’t return to Pennsylvania. We used PGSS as a one-way pass out of the state to places where science and technology played a more crucial role in industry. And it’s hard for a state-sponsored program to consider that a success. But on an individual level, everyone I’ve ever met from PGSS benefited tremendously from that opportunity. It deeply saddens me to think that future students won’t have such an opportunity. Le sad.