CHICAGO HEIGHTS–(ENEWSPF)–March 14. 2016. Alexus Williams is a sophomore with junior standing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign majoring in human development and family studies. What many people don’t know is she started earning college credit while in high school, completing 23 credits at Prairie State College (PSC) by the time she graduated from high school. She did that by participating in The Academy of Student Excellence in Science and Math: Bioscience Initiative (STEM Academy) – the special partnership between Rich Township District 227 and PSC. That also is why even though she is listed as sophomore, she has enough credits to be of junior standing.
“The benefits I gained from the STEM Academy are the necessary skills I utilize for my college career. Within the program I have improved my study, communication and leadership skills. I have learned to not to be afraid to ask for help or feel overwhelmed. College itself is stressful and the STEM Academy gave me a head start on how to approach stress and become a better student,” Williams said.
Sean Smith, academic advisor for STEM at PSC, remembers Alexus well, “Alexus stood out because she was college ready, college determined and ready to move forward. She also was an athlete at her high school and was juggling a lot.”
The STEM Academy is designed for eligible seniors from the three Rich Township high schools: Rich East, Rich Central and Rich South. Students take the college assessment test and they must pass the math requirement to be eligible. In addition, they need an essay, a reference and a transcript. Students take three courses each semester. The classes are held at PSC’s main campus in the morning, and the students are back at their home high school for the afternoon.
Another benefit of the program is the students enter college with enough credits to be allowed to register for classes early. “This was very beneficial because I was classified as a sophomore after my first semester of classes, and I did not have to worry about classes being full,” Williams said.
Williams is interested in a nursing career, and says the STEM Academy helped her build a strong science foundation. Williams also acknowledged the assistance she received from Smith, saying he was great influence on her and helped her with successfully navigating the STEM Academy.
When asked if she would recommend the STEM Academy to other high school students, Williams was very enthusiastic about the program. She said that fitting the college courses in while still in high school was challenging but worth it. “I have learned how to take responsibility of my own work, work on my time management skills and also build relationships with professors. I recommend this program because it has shaped me into the successful student I am today.”
Smith emphasized the financial advantage for the student, because the participants are getting a jump start on college by earning college credits at no charge while still in high school. “The students do not pay for the credits, books or fees,” he said.
“Ultimately, I think the STEM Academy has enabled to me to start my career choice earlier than most students and I am grateful for the experience,” Williams said.
The STEM Academy was established through a five –year grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, under its Predominantly Black Institutions Formula Grant Program. For more information, please contact Dr. David Naze, associate dean for academic affairs, at [email protected] or Sean Smith at [email protected].