This past week, I had the pleasure of distributing to 4 of my brightest math students their invitations to a summer math research program at Morgan State University. This is the culmination of weeks of conversations I have been involved with in collaboration with their math department. As part of the program, the students will commute to MSU over a 6 week period in June and July, where they will be matched up with faculty mentors and they will experience first hand how math research is done. How much will they have to pay for the experience? Nothing! In fact, Morgan State is going to pay them each $3000. It blows my mind.
When I delivered the invitations, I congratulated the students of course, but I also took the opportunity to deliver some tough love. I told them that while their math skills fantastic and are what got them this opportunity, that it’s their behavior skills I’m worried about. I told them that this opportunity makes them examples to the rest of the student body, and that they need to make sure their actions uphold a high standard at all times. I told them that they need to know that the impression they make during their time at MSU will determine not only whether they are invited back the following summer, but it will also determine whether MSU expands their involvement for the rest of the school as a whole. Lastly, I told them that they don’t owe me anything for helping get them this opportunity, because other people freely gave me the opportunities that I had. Instead, I expect them to make the most of it so that they can open doors for future friendship students and for today’s elementary school students, and that’s how we can start to turn this city around. I hope they took what I said to heart, but I plan on reinforcing it over the next several weeks anyway.
To be honest, I am really concerned that these kids might blow it. Two of them in particular I would consider to be high-risk. But that concern is far outweighed by my hope that this summer program might be the start of a major positive change in the course of their lives. Sometimes kids just need a chance to shine. In any case, helping make the connection so that these kids would have this awesome opportunity is probably the proudest achievement of the past two years.