Houston PREP: 30 Years at UHD
Inspiring Young Minds for future STEM-related Careers
By Mark Kramer
The Houston PREP program is celebrating its 30th year of opening the minds of local middle and high school students to new worlds of learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Formally known as the Houston Pre-freshman Enrichment Program, the University of Houston-Downtown launched Houston PREP in the summer of 1989, modeling it after the TexPREP initiative of the University of Texas at San Antonio to inspire students from economically and socially disadvantaged populations to pursue STEM related careers.
“Houston PREP provides learning experiences that go beyond the regular school classroom setting,” said Sangeeta Gad, director of the program, who has also served as a UHD math professor since the early 1980s. “Our hope is that the students who attend all four years of the program will not only embrace possible careers, but become lifelong learners, problem solvers and decision makers.”
Students participating in the free, four-year program through July 13 are from local school districts including Aldine ISD, Alief ISD, Galena Park ISD, Houston ISD, Harmony Public Schools and Spring Branch ISD.
“We are actively looking to collaborate with other area districts in hopes that their students will become involved in our program,” Gad said.
In addition, teachers from some of the participating districts serve as instructors for the Houston PREP classes, along with recent UHD graduates.
“From those new to the program to the ones that are in their fourth and final year, you can see how the students’ knowledge base has broadened and that they have built on what they have learned,” said Steve Kimbrough, a 2008 UHD alumnus and Career and Technology teacher at the Citgo Innovation Academy at Olle Middle School in Alief. Kimbrough is in his fifth year serving as a volunteer instructor for Houston PREP.
In the first year of the program, students learn problem solving skills in math and are tackling introductory engineering and computer science concepts. One of their tasks for the course is building custom websites using HTML and CSS computer languages that features a STEM topic of their choice, detailing their summer research. The engineering component includes students building tower structures, gliders and mouse trap cars to compliment lessons on energy, force and aerodynamics.
“I’ve always been fascinated by computers, said Adjua Asare, a third-year Houston PREP and a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston ISD. “I enjoy this program because you are able to learn ins-and-outs of how computers work. What we are learning is detailed and hands-on. Eventually, I want to major in Computer Science and this program is going to really benefit me when I enter college.”
Second year activities include an introduction to physics and advanced engineering where students learn circuitry and construct an LED connected to sensors that will illuminate a room in the absence of light. The students also create a motor using common household items.
The final year culminates in using all of the science, engineering, math and technology components they’ve learned in the construction of a robot that performs various tasks. The students also have an added benefit of being able to take SAT prep classes, which may benefit them when taking the rigorous exam.
“The programming of the robot is a team effort,” Kimbrough said. “They definitely put all that they’ve learned to work. What I think is great about this program is that all students come from diverse backgrounds, from different areas of town and become friends over the course of four years. They form a bond. Those qualities something that will benefit them as they enter college and throughout life.”
Engineering Career Day is also a highlight of the program, where students are able to engage with STEM professionals through panel discussions and presentations. Students are also able to showcase projects they have been working on in class. An awards ceremony from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on July 19 concludes the program for the summer.
Gad emphasized that corporate and community partnerships have been influential in the growth of Houston PREP. Corporate and Foundation Partners include Bank of America, CenterPoint Energy, CITGO, The Powell Foundation, Schlumberger and the Whelan Family. Public Sector Partners are the Houston Food Bank – Kids Cafe, National Center for Women & Information Technology, National Science Foundation, Texas Legislature and the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Our program provides an interactive an exciting environment, with teachers who bring innovation into the classroom and care about the success of every student,” Gad said. “When these students leave Houston PREP, they will have the skills and knowledge to take on the world.”
Want to know more about the program? Visit the Houston PREP website.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. Annually, UHD educates more than 14,000 students; boasts over 50,000 alumni and offers 44 bachelor’s and eight master’s degree programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service, Sciences & Technology; and University College). In 2018, UHD grew its First Time in College student population by 11 percent and transfer students by 14 percent.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston. It also is ranked among 15 U.S. universities with lowest net price to students (according to the U.S. Department of Education). The University is noted nationally as both a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Minority-Serving Institution. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.