Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM are buzzwords in secondary education. Even with the recent increased emphasis, STEM learning and proficiency gains are uneven among students. Students from underserved communities are less likely to choose STEM careers, recent studies show. Dan Zaharopol ’04 believes one reason for the disparity is a lack of access to STEM learning outside of the classroom. That’s why he launched the Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), a residential summer math program for students who don’t have access to advanced STEM learning.
Zaharopol’s experience with summer math programs is personal—he attended a number of enrichment programs before enrolling at MIT, where he also worked as a teaching assistant. “The programs took me well beyond what was offered at my school,” he says. “Then, when teaching 6.001, I saw that prior background really had an impact on the students. What you had access to before MIT affected your transition and what doors were open for you.”
Zaharopol, an educational entrepreneur, launched BEAM in 2011. The first summer program included 17 seventh grade students from nine schools across New York City. BEAM students spend three weeks living on a college campus taking math instruction seven hours a day combined with activities like sports and arts and crafts. “The students really like the classes, they like the community, they like the sense of independence from living on a college campus,” Zaharopol says. Aside from building community with fellow classmates—BEAM’s typical summer program size is now 40—students build close relationships with the program’s faculty. A mix of college professors and high school and middle school teachers, BEAM faculty are encouraged to teach the kind of math they love with no set curriculum, helping students to nurture their love of math. Students can choose to learn advanced topics like number theory, combinatorics, and astrophysics.
BEAM now offers two summer enrichment programs for New York City students, for seventh grade and sixth grade. Zaharopol launched the sixth grade program after seeing a need to reach students earlier in their educational journey. To ensure that any interested student has the opportunity to attend BEAM, applications are offered through New York City schools and can be completed during school hours. BEAM partners directly with 35 schools across New York City, educating teachers and students about the program. BEAM programs are free of charge.
Support from BEAM doesn’t end once the summer is over, students receive mentoring through high school and assistance with college applications. This continued support helps ensure that a summer of enrichment keeps students on a path to success, much like it did for Zaharopol. “It’s well-known that there are a lot of issues with the pathways in succeeding in science and math. It’s closed to a lot of people and created imbalance in who can succeed,” he says. “It’s really important that we’re here to make a concrete difference and give student access.”