SIU partners with SMASH Academy to bring STEM opportunities to high school students

By Emily Cooper, Staff Reporter

SIU is partnering with the California-based “Summer Math and Science Honors Academy program,” a free STEM-intensive college preparatory program for underrepresented high school students to bring the program to southern Illinois launching Summer 2019.

“These are students that may not come from the family background where it is expected they are going to go to college,” said Meera Komarraju, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic affairs. “These are students who have to find their way and this program provides that opportunity to expose the students to what the STEM area is.”

Komarraju said the program is not only focused on science technology, engineering or math, but also helps students with design thinking, creative problem solving, leadership and college prep. She said the best part of the program is it provides mentoring and support for the students.


“The students have the opportunity to get in a cohort with other students from a similar background who have all of the same interests,” Komarraju said. “It gives them that group; they have this sense of belonging.”

The program provides a free five-week residential program at Southern over the summer months and will bring the students on campus once a month for the rest of the year, Komarraju said.

The program is looking for high school students that would stay in the program for three consecutive years. It was found that 100 percent of students who participated in the SMASH program would graduate from high school, Komarraju said. 80 percent of the students were found to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

The program is hoping to attract 70 high school students from the state – 35 from the southern Illinois area and 35 from the south side of Chicago.

Komarraju said that when the Illinois was identified for the program, the Illinois Institute of Technology was the only university considered but Linda Baker, a staff member at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, mentioned the university to organizers and helped clinch the deal.

“Just through some networking, she happened to know about this program and she said Illinois is not just Chicago. There’s more to Illinois and really you should serve the children in the rural part of [the state,]” Komarraju said.

A representative from the SMASH Academy and a member of Chicago-based CPASS Foundation, a group that aims to increase underrepresented Illinois students in STEM professions, toured the university and saw the university’s  commitment to the students of the region, Kommaraju said.


“They gave us a chance,” Komarraju said. “At all of the other sights, there was only one university – this is the first time they are trying two universities.”

Kommaraju said that the student are not the only ones to benefit from the program; so does the society which they come from because the students become role models in their communities.

”It’s not just one student absorbing the knowledge and keeping it to themselves, they go home and talk about it to their friends and family,” Komarraju said. “If they succeed, imagine the benefit to everybody else around them.”

Staff reporter Emily Cooper can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ecooper212.

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