Governor's School for Sciences reopens at CMU due to donations

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Christian Heil, 17, of Upper St. Clair doesn't expect to get a tan this summer.

That's because he'll be spending 12 hours a day for the next five weeks huddled inside of the classrooms and labs of Carnegie Mellon University with 49 other top science and math students from across the state who earned places at the 2013 Governor's School for the Sciences.

While being chosen for the program is a momentous event for the students, reopening the governor's school, which closed in 2009 because of state budget cuts, was a momentous event for organizers at CMU, including governor's school director Barry Luokkala, a CMU professor of physics.

The rebirth was made possible by an ambitious group of alumni from the Governor's School for the Sciences who have spent the past four years fundraising to cover costs.

The group raised $150,000 from private and corporate sponsors, an amount that was matched in a grant from the state Department of Education to provide the funding necessary to operate the program. It is the only one of the eight previous governor's schools to be reinstated.

The largest donors to the program are EQT Corp., AT&T, PPG and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

The first governor's school in Pennsylvania was the school for the arts founded in 1973. The Governor's School for the Sciences was started at CMU in 1982 and ran through 2008.

David Volkman, acting director of elementary and secondary education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, told the students in the 2013 class of the Governor's School for the Sciences that their work needs to be encouraged because 80 percent of the fastest-growing professions in Pennsylvania involve math and science skills.

The students in the 2013 session are rising seniors at their high schools and were chosen from 515 applicants from across the state. Mr. Luokkala pointed out that is a 12 percent acceptance rate, which he said, is tougher than the most elite colleges and universities. "You are the chosen ones," he said at the school's kickoff meeting Sunday.

Christian said he sees the school as "a great opportunity to see more cutting edge stuff that is out there and to experience top-notch professors."

He's interested in bioengineering and learning how systems work but also in chemical and mechanical engineering and material sciences. He's hoping to absorb as much information in those areas as possible during the coming five weeks.

Brynn McGovern, 16, of Warrington, near Philadelphia, said she was "really excited" when she heard from her math teacher that the Governor's School for the Sciences would restart this year. Her older sister had participated five years ago in the Governor's School for Global Entrepreneurship and "had the time of her life," Brynn said.

Brynn said the experience will help prepare her for college and possibly help her to narrow her focus on what she intends to pursue as a college major.

Aidan Hodge, 16, of Waverly, near Scranton, said his math teacher encouraged him to apply for the governor's school because "I'm really into math and the sciences."

"I know this is like voluntary summer school, but it will give me more experience in research and more knowledge about science and mathematics. I'm particularly interested in physics and would like a physics research job," Aidan said.

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Mary Niederberger can be reached at or 412-263-1590.


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