SMILE program attracts government attention, passes 25-year mark
SMILE has grown in size, receives acknowledgement from Department of Education
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 00:11
Oregon State University’s Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences program, more commonly known as SMILE, has now been around for 25 years.
SMILE began in 1988 serving four rural schools with high Native American and Latino populations. Today, SMILE’s reach extends to 33 schools and 55 teachers, serving over a dozen locations throughout Oregon, from Cave Junction to Forest Grove.
SMILE is part of the office of pre-college programs at OSU.
“The whole purpose of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority first generation, low-income students who are prepared to go to college and succeed,” said Ryan Collay, assistant director for SMILE. “We provide the socio-cultural connection that says: you’re going to go to college.”
SMILE serves elementary, middle and high school students, providing after-school science and math clubs taught by public school teachers. SMILE also tries to hold a college connection event each year.
“This year, elementary and middle school SMILE students took a field trip to a college,” Collay said. “For high school students, we have had ocean sciences challenges for the last 10 years.”
The statistics indicate SMILE has had a strong impact on the students served over the past quarter century.
“We did a survey, and of the students who spent two or more years in SMILE, 80 percent went to college,” Collay said. “For those who spent four or more years in SMILE, 90 percent of them went to college.”
Former SMILE students strongly credit the program for helping them in school and in making the smooth transition to Oregon State. Arturo Valdivia, a senior in chemical engineering, was in the SMILE program for nine years. He heard of SMILE from older siblings who also went through the program.
“My time in the SMILE program was great,” Valdivia said. “The program is a large part of why I chose to go to college.”
Valdivia also credited the SMILE program with helping him choose a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related major.
“SMILE was a big factor in why I chose a science and math related major,” Valdivia said. “It showed me not only the importance of these fields, but also their constant changing nature, which intrigued me and led me into the engineering discipline.”
Gloria Serrano, a junior in psychology and human development and family sciences, spent five years in the SMILE program in Ontario, Ore. Serrano echoed many of Valdivia’s sentiments about SMILE.
“The SMILE program impacted my education by helping me think more about science and math, and also by getting me thinking about college at a young age,” Serrano said. “I already knew that I wanted higher education by middle school.”
Serrano also credits SMILE with helping her make a smooth transition to college.
“The program showed me that college would be a good choice and would also be exciting,” Serrano said. “It also showed me how inviting [OSU] was, which is why I wanted to go.”
Recently, SMILE was acknowledged for its work to support student improvement by the U.S. Department of Education along with the Corporation for National and Community Service as Together for Tomorrow challenge winners.
Oregon State’s SMILE program was one of 24 winners. The challenge states its purpose on its website as, “challenging schools, national service programs, higher education institutions, and community and faith-based organizations to work together to propel improvement of our lowest performing schools.”
A panel of several judges, including staff from the Department of Education, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House, judged applicants for the challenge.
“Its an exciting acknowledgement of our capacity to make a difference in some of the least-served, highest-need schools in Oregon,” Collay said about receiving the award. “We do this with partners, and bring lots of interesting people to the table.”
This is not the first time the SMILE program has been honored nationally. In 1999, SMILE was honored by former-President Bill Clinton with the Presidential Excellence in Mentoring award. The award was for excellence in science, math and engineering mentoring, which is what the SMILE program is all about.
Vinay Ramakrishnan, news reporter