SOE News

Pre-College Program motivates students to pursue majors and careers in mathematics and science

Photo of Saturday Academy

Saturday Academy


Photo of PERSIST

PERSIST (Pre-College Experiences for Reaching Students Interested in Science Teaching)


Photo of Summer Program

Summer Program


Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Photo of Exploration Fair

Exploration Fair


Photo of Building robots

Building robots


Photo of Testing robots

Testing robots


Photo of NC-MSEN Day



Photo of Awards


Photos courtesy of the Pre-College Program

Since its establishment in 1986, the Pre-College Program (PCP) in the School of Education has worked to increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared to pursue careers in mathematics, science, engineering and technology and to promote mathematical and scientific literacy among all students. An offshoot of the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network (NC-MSEN), Carolina’s Pre-College Program is one of nine such programs statewide.

Now in its 23rd year, the UNC-Chapel Hill Pre-College Program continues to reach out to local middle school and high school students, especially underserved students, with its unique approach to teaching and learning mathematics and science.

Of the nine NC-MSEN Pre-College Programs statewide, UNC-Chapel Hill’s program is the largest and serves 500 students from 20 participating schools in the Alamance/Burlington, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham and Orange County public school systems. Eighteen of these 20 schools are recognized as having the PCP, which means the school has a teacher who teaches an MSEN class elective, or sponsors an after-school PCP club.  Students who want to participate in the PCP but don’t go to a PCP recognized school are still welcome to participate in after-school and weekend activities.

“From the beginning, we have had an open-door policy and have tried to make these opportunities available to all schools and students,” says Russ Rowlett, director of the Center for Mathematics and Science Education, in which the PCP is housed. 

PCP Coordinator Dianne Affleck, a former chemical engineer, says that one of the main benefits of the program is that it gets parents and students used to talking about college.

“The fundamental theme of the Pre-College Program is to create an expectation of students to say ‘We’re going to college to study math and science,’” says Rowlett. Many of the PCP students are first-generation college students.

The PCP offers students the opportunity to explore subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a fun environment. Beginning in sixth grade, PCP students participate in a variety of programs including daily MSEN elective classes, after-school clubs that promote study of these topics, summer programs, a Saturday Academy and NC-MSEN Day.

In the Saturday Academy sessions, students have an opportunity to come onto campus and take classes.  Rather than adhering to a strict curriculum, the courses target the needs of students based on feedback from teachers in the area. For middle school students, these classes include language arts, mathematics, science and public speaking. At the high school level, the courses are comparable, but the public speaking is replaced with a senior project class that assists high school students in preparing for the state-mandated senior project.

“Saturday Academy was a great experience because I had the opportunity to be on a college campus and get a feel for what its culture entails. Being able to walk around UNC, meet current students and learn about the University allowed me to see this institution in a way that no tour or brochure would. That’s why I chose to apply to Carolina,” said April Adeeyo, a former PCP Student and current UNC junior.

With an average Saturday Academy class size of 10-20, teachers are able to work closely with students and address their specific needs. Saturday Academy teachers are selected based on an application process and a sample lesson plan. These teachers include local public school teachers, UNC faculty and guest teachers. 

“Our Saturday Academy teachers can take lesson plans from their school classroom and tweak them to cater to a smaller class size. Our setting is not as structured as a normal school’s, so teachers really have the flexibility to be innovative with their plans,” said Affleck.

At the NC-MSEN Day, all schools participating in the PCP meet at the participating university’s campus for a day-long competition in mathematics, science, engineering and technology. MSEN Day challenges students to present the skills and knowledge they have learned through the PCP in the previous year. Events at previous NC-MSEN Day have included a bridge building competition, a robot building competition and formal written tests. 

Not only does this day give students a chance to visit colleges throughout the state, but they also have the opportunity to meet deans, chancellors and leaders of campus student organizations.

Aside from solely focusing on mathematics and science, Affleck says the social and cultural aspects of the program enhance the students’ overall learning. The PCP hosts a Martin Luther King Jr. Saturday where student participation includes reading poetry. At the Exploration Fair, students have had the opportunity to meet with a former astronaut and travel to area museums.

“We really enjoy giving students the experience to take classes on a real college campus, but as much as we can, we take them off campus to visit people and places they otherwise may not have the opportunity to visit,” said Affleck.

Statistics prove that the PCP is successful in placing its students into college. One hundred percent of seniors in the PCP were admitted to college in 2007. 

“Overall I would say that the Pre-College Program and MSEN are great programs that groom so many students to go to college and reach for the stars,” said Adeeyo.