posted December 10, 2013

Grant from ExxonMobil Supports Schools’ Participation in REACH

The presentation of a check earlier this semester continued several years of support by ExxonMobil of the college’s REACH program for high school students and teachers. Pictured from left to right are: front row, Abigail Albers of J&H Oil, a local ExxonMobil branded fuels marketing distributor; Dr. Jianhua Li, associate professor of biology; Dr. James Gentile, dean for the natural and applied sciences and professor of biology; Elizabeth Colburn, director of Hope College TRiO Upward Bound; David Handy, territory manager with ExxonMobil; and Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean for research and scholarship and associate professor of chemistry; back row, Mark DeWitt, director of corporate and foundation relations; and Matt Van Zanten of J&H Oil.

For the fifth consecutive year, ExxonMobil has provided support for high school students to learn about the natural and applied sciences as participants in the summer research program at Hope College.

A $7,000 grant to the college supported the participation of five high school students in the REACH (Research Experiences Across Cultures at Hope) program this past summer. The award was presented at Hope earlier during the current fall semester by David Handy, a territory manager with ExxonMobil, and Matt Van Zanten and Abigail Albers, representing J&H Oil, a local ExxonMobil branded fuels marketing distributor.

Hope College has been offering research experiences for high school teachers and students for the past eight years through the REACH program.  Students and teachers spend about six weeks on campus engaged in challenging and relevant research projects with Hope's science, engineering and mathematics faculty. The goal is to provide meaningful learning experiences to the students as they consider their interest in pursuing careers in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields in college, and to involve teachers in research activity that they can in turn apply to their own classroom teaching. The emphasis has been on recruiting students who come from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM careers. The REACH program has positively impacted career path choices for 95 high school students since 2006.

This past summer, five students who have been part of Hope’s TRiO Upward Bound program were chosen for the research experiences and the funding from the ExxonMobil grant supported their five-week immersion experience. All five of the students, two women and three men, are now seniors at West Ottawa, Holland and Fennville high schools. The students were embedded in biochemistry, genetics, chemistry, and environmental science labs and each of them worked closely with Hope College undergraduates and faculty members.

“The summer REACH experience has been invaluable for the Upward Bound students,” said Elizabeth Colburn, director of Hope College TRiO Upward Bound.  “It not only gives them an opportunity to become immersed in a research lab working alongside professors and college students but also inspires them to continue working toward their goal of a college education.”

“Upward Bound students enter the summer research program feeling a bit intimidated by the idea of working in a college science lab. They leave the program with a deeper understanding of what it means to conduct research, the importance of team work and communication, knowledge of science related careers, and confidence in their ability to pursue them,” she said.

The REACH program reflects the college’s ongoing commitment to continuing and expanding its long-running emphasis on student-faculty collaborative research as a teaching tool. In addition to working on projects during the school year, regularly more than 180 students conduct research full-time for several weeks each summer with faculty mentors. Those participating in summer research at the college include not only Hope students and the REACH program participants but also students from other colleges and universities supported through National Science Foundation “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” (NSF-REU) grants awarded to departments within the natural and applied sciences at Hope.