Amélie Schinck-Mikel, a first-generation college graduate, said she remembers the first time she stepped onto a college campus.
“It was just awe-inspiring,” she said.
Elsa Medina, also a first-generation college graduate, added “scary” and overwhelming, too.
“In my family, there was no one who would guide me in the process, and (college application is) a very extensive process,” she said.
The two women, now Cal Poly math professors, direct a one-week summer Math Academy, which began Monday and ends Friday. The academy, founded in 2012, encompassed three college visits into math-focused programming. But grant restrictions have since rendered previously available funding for the college travel obsolete.
“It’s a funding issue, always,” Medina said.
Each trip to Cal Poly for the group of about 20 Santa Maria High and Pioneer Valley high school students costs $500, a fraction of the $20,000 grant-paid cost to staff and run the Math Academy.
During the college visits, students heard success stories and advice from Cal Poly professors and met students in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
“We feel it’s important,” Medina said.
The visit helps to familiarize high school students with what can seem like a foreign world — college, Schinck-Mikel said.
The aim of the trip — to expose students to a college campus — aligns with that of the Math Academy, intended to introduce them to in-depth reasoning skills needed at the college level. That means time-involved mathematical processes and problem solving, the two directors said outside a Santa Maria High classroom.
Inside Room 351, a group of six certified and Cal Poly student teachers will continue to spend about three hours each day this week helping students work through one or two process-driven mathematical problems — a luxury that is not possible during the school year, Schinck-Mikel said.
“Here, we can pose really rich problems that we can spend one hour or an hour and a half on,” Schinck-Mikel said.
Wednesday, the group scooped cups of popcorn to fill two rectangular prisms, one with a wider base, to determine which prism held more popcorn and, thus, the larger volume.
Maria Murillo, a 17-year-old Pioneer Valley student, accurately conjectured that the “fatter” prism had a wider base and would hold more popcorn.
She met Santa Maria High teacher Regina Sachtleben at the dry erase board and showed her classmates what she would do to make the volume of the two prisms equal.
“Each and every one of us has a different way of learning,” said Murillo, adding she is a visual learner.
“That’s what this program’s really good with,” she said.
Murillo participated in the Math Academy in 2012 and again this year. She plans to take AP calculus and math analysis courses during the school year.
“I’m doubling up in math next year,” she said.