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SECOP Opens Doors to Success

SECOP Opens Doors to Success

Loyola Marymount University’s efforts to attract and retain female students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors are paying off. By partnering with local high schools, LMU has developed a program that leads females and minority youth to go to college and choose promising STEM careers.

“More women are studying science as a result of LMU’s extensive outreach efforts,” says Richard G. Plumb, dean of LMU’s Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Programs such as the Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program (SECOP) are changing the gender ratio in STEM courses at LMU.

SECOP is a pre-college program that is supported in part by the California Education Facilities Authority and brings about 30 underrepresented low-income minority high school students to LMU for a two-week residential “boot camp” to improve their STEM skills. The students experience campus life and are mentored by science and engineering undergraduates as well as professors. The program leaders also inform students about SATs, college admission and scholarships.

SECOP identifies high school students through partnerships with several local academic enrichment programs serving the minority community of Los Angeles, including Young Black Scholars, College Bound, Blazer Youth Services Community Club and American Indian Clubhouse. Since 2001, a total of 154 students from 54 local high schools have participated in SECOP.

During their two weeks on campus, SECOP students attend pre-engineering, computer and advanced math classes taught by LMU professors. They take field trips to engineering and science corporations such as Disney's Imagineering and Northrop Grumman. Other activities, including an annual Career Day, help prepare students for life after high school graduation. Students are also provided with important information about the SATs, college admission, and scholarships.

According to Barbara Christie, director of SECOP, providing such an opportunity at the end of the sophomore year gives students a new purpose when they return to their high schools. “Their teachers really see an improvement with them. Students recognize that the purpose of finishing high school is to attend and graduate from college, because they have been acclimated to the whole college experience,” Christie explained.

Sacred Heart Chapel High School (SHCHS), an all-girl Catholic school located in Los Angeles with a predominant Latino population, has become a regular SECOP participant. In the last seven year, 27 of their students have graduated from SECOP. According to Christie, good connections have been developed at SHCHS and the results are promising.

“We reach out to kids who have little access to information about careers in science and engineering,” Christie says. “The results are amazing. The students realize that being strong in math and science can lead to lucrative and rewarding careers in engineering, biomedical research or a health-related field.”

SECOP’s track record is worthy of note: 100 percent of the students have gone on to attend college, some at LMU, and other top universities around the nation.

“LMU is committed to helping underrepresented minorities pursue and complete degrees in science and engineering,” Plumb says. “The only way to lead a vibrant future in science is by taking a vested interest in seeing all students succeed.”

In summer of 2008, Christie expects to enroll 36 sophomores in the program. “It’s really rewarding to watch them grow up … giving them the right push at the right time makes a difference,” she says. “When we began this seven years ago, I never imagined the extent of our success or that it would last so long.”