Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences restored for promising students

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The Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences, which fell victim in 2009 to Pennsylvania's budget crisis, is being resurrected this summer at Carnegie Mellon University with help from a state grant and matching private funds, officials confirmed Friday.

For decades, the school and several others hosted by colleges across the state -- known collectively as the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence -- provided some of the commonwealth's most talented high school students intensive summer study in the arts and sciences, free of charge.

When the state concluded it could no longer afford the highly regarded five-week programs, the schools' supporters launched an aggressive effort to restore them.

Now, it appears one of those schools will receive new life. The state Department of Education said it is finalizing a contract with Carnegie Mellon to resume operating the school on its campus with help from $150,000 in education funds from this year's state budget, all of it matched by donations from governor's school alumni, their parents and corporate gifts and grants.

"We're thrilled," said Maureen Ryan, executive director of PGSS Campaign Inc., a group whose members include alumni and parents of the School for the Sciences. "The members felt very passionately about the program and what they took from it, both academically and socially, in terms of collaborating with their peers."

The Education Department has not yet completed the contract, but "we do not anticipate any issues," agency spokesman Tim Eller said. "We are hopeful the contract will be finalized in the next couple weeks, if not sooner."

"As of right now there is no plan for additional Governor's Schools, but I can't say what next year or the year after that may hold," he added.

Mr. Eller said the Corbett administration's decision to commit state dollars to the School for the Sciences is consistent with the governor's view that the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics hold promise for the state's economy through job creation. "This is the future of Pennsylvania," Mr. Eller said.

An official announcement is still pending about the school that will be hosted by Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science. But the school recently received permission to begin seeking students interested in enrolling this summer before their senior year of high school. The School for the Sciences web page,, now includes information including an application form, which must be postmarked by Jan. 28.

Founded in 1973, the statewide Governor's School program had 19,000 alumni at the time funding was cut. Its graduates have gone on to highly successful careers in fields from medicine to entertainment, and their ranks include Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron J. Kernis, actor Kevin Bacon and best-selling author Alice Sebold.

Over the years, students from the various Governor's Schools were picked in a highly competitive process, with room, board and instruction-related costs covered by the program at a yearly cost to the state of $3.2 million. Each school specialized in an area of study.

Officials said the Governor's Schools and their host campuses affected by the 2009 funding cut included: agricultural sciences, Penn State University; arts, Mercyhurst College; global entrepreneurship, Lehigh University; health care, the University of Pittsburgh; information, society and technology, Drexel University; international studies, University of Pittsburgh; sciences, Carnegie Mellon University; and teaching, Millersville University.

Some campuses stepped in with substitute summer programs.

At Carnegie Mellon, rising high school seniors selected to attend the School for the Sciences from June 30 through Aug. 3 will have their expenses paid, officials said. Based on funds raised, 56 students are expected to enroll.

The program typically includes a common educational experience drawn from core courses taken by all students in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer sciences, said Barry Luokkala, teaching professor of physics and the school's program director. There also are elective courses, a required lab experience, guest lectures and team research projects that Mr. Luokkala described as the program's hallmark.

"I think its a wonderful thing that the governor considers us a high priority and I'm just delighted that it's coming back again," said Mr. Luokkala, who was program director for nine of the 27 years the school operated before being placed on hiatus.

Mr. Luokkala said he believes the nation is slipping in its position of global leadership in STEM areas and that the school is one way of helping to counter that offering enriching experiences to students who show early interest in those fields.

He said alumni have gone on to head pediatrics at major hospitals, teach at top universities and work for NASA as aerospace engineers.

Ms. Ryan said that along with gifts from individuals, TEVA Pharmaceuticals of Philadelphia made a $20,000 gift through the state's Education Improvement Tax Credit program and PPG Industries Foundation is providing a $15,000 corporate grant.

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Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977.


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