My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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RIP Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS)

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.

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8 comments to RIP Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS)

  • Man, I know – what a bummer! I did my best to pass along the petition to counter this move through all my media channels, to no avail. I didn’t go to Gov School but lots of friends and family did. It’s a real loss to the citizens of Pennsylvania, and the world!

  • Le sad indeed!

    I’m a PGSS alum (’85, showing my age). PGSS quite literally saved my life — I was phenomenally depressed pre-PGSS, coming from a school district where academic achievement was not exactly welcome. I envisioned a meaningless life, with nobody to like or love, because I had the temerity to think and use words like “temerity”. At PGSS I found others who didn’t feel having or using a brain was the kiss of social death. While teenagers can be teenagers, the level intellectual playing field eliminated that as a bone of contention. I even fell in love for the first time.

    Coming out of PGSS, I was far calmer about my life’s potential as I put up with my senior year at high school. The rest, as they say, is history. Disturbingly ancient history, at that…

    I didn’t catch wind of the program’s cancellation prior to your post. I actually returned to PA, after a dozen post-undergrad years, so I’d’ve at least made some effort to keep the program around had I realized it was in jeopardy.

    Le seriously sad.

  • This is a real shame. I taught Computer Science at PGSS in ’87 and ’88 (talk about showing my age!). It was wonderful to teach young people who were so eager to learn, so excited by being exposed to material they’d never seen before. I found teaching at PGSS much more rewarding than teaching undergrads at CMU.

  • I went to a similar program in Vermont – http://www.giv.org/display.php?name=scitech_landing – and it definitely changed the direction of my life for the better, though it took a few years for what I’d learned to sink in.

    My high school didn’t have any AP classes until the year after I graduated, so the exposure to a broad range of college-level science with other smart people had a huge impact on my hungry young mind. MORE of these programs, not less!

  • Kevin Cantu

    That is a shame. Opportunities like that in Nebraska and Iowa made all the difference for me, too.

  • Chelsea

    To Kevin Cantu–I’m a high school student in Omaha, Nebraska. I ran into the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Teaching on my quest for ways to get into education reform; what are these Nebraska/Iowa equivalents of which you speak? Please reach me at kit1792kat@hotmail.com. Thank you.

  • PGSS alumni and friends, we are trying to bring back PGSS and need help. Please go to http://www.savepgss.org

    We are also putting together an alumni testimonials and a contact database and need help tracking people down. email savepgss@gmail.com to submit your info or get more information. Thanks!

    Ben, PGSS 97

  • Janet Hurwitz

    We have formed an Alumni Association for PGSS. Please go to http://www.pgssalumni.org and sign in!