A passion for math, science and new ideas

Alanna Reyes is one of 66 teens who spent five weeks immersed in math and science at UC Berkeley this summer. The senior at at Lynbrook High School in San Jose describes her experience at SMASH, an honors program for low-income students. -Katy

courtesy photo

“Is that Relient K? I love that band!” I said to my roommate.

“Yes, it is Relient K. I thought the song fit the weather this week,” she said as she started singing the words. “And on and off, the clouds have fought for control over the sky…”

I looked at the cloudy sky outside of our dormitory window. Even the gloomy day couldn’t dampen my excitement about getting out of the dorm room and meeting the other SMASH scholars before class. It was July, and I was spending five weeks of my summer at UC Berkeley’s campus with more than 60 other high school students.

More than an academic program, SMASH had become a supportive community for me. Not only do SMASH scholars have access to teachers every night during tutorials for two whole hours outside of class, we draw strength and support from other scholars and our Resident Assistants.

Speaking of tutorials, it was time for me to leave the dorm and get to the Tech II tutorial in LeConte Hall. Math and science classes are the focus of our program, hence the name of the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy. We’re also fortunate enough to have funding available for electives like “Speak Up, Speak Out,” a public speaking workshop for first-year scholars; robotics for second-year scholars; and technology for second and third-year scholars. I love science with a passion, but nothing beats watching a finished movie you recorded, edited, and created yourself.

I waved goodbye to my roommate and headed downstairs. Three years of SMASH classes had taught me go over a mental checklist before leaving the dorms, since showing up to class unprepared was the worst feeling, not to mention disrespectful to our teachers. Keys and meal card, check. Laptop that LPFI loans to each scholar, check. Classmates… where was everyone? Scholars usually met 15 minutes before tutorial outside the dormitory so nobody was left behind on the walk there. Ohana, one of the students called it. We may not be related by blood, but inside each of us was a passion for math and science that united us and made us a family.

Maybe they’re waiting outside of the dining hall, I thought to myself. Stern Commons wasn’t the most glamorous of eateries, but it was the best place to bond with scholars. Sure enough, I met the group of third-years I was looking for at the bottom of the stairs as each student ran back up to grab a backpack.

We had five minutes before it was time to leave, so I decided to wait downstairs while everyone regrouped. Students had already assembled and were waiting to go meet with their teachers. The sea of faces and chatter morphed into individuals, most of them debating the merit of an answer to a problem, and some of the younger scholars describing their lives back home. As I met their eyes, alive and sharp, I couldn’t help but think: SMASH changes us. It helps us open our minds to other people and open our minds to new ideas. SMASH changes us so that, someday, we can change the world.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.