This past summer (2016) the W.M. Keck Science Department admitted the fourth class of the Summer Science Immersion Program (SScIP).  This program was funded by a generous grant to The Claremont Colleges from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). A group of 22 incoming Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps science students participated in the week-long program, which was centered on the theme “The Chemistry of Life.” The students lived in a residence hall on the Scripps College campus and ate their meals in the CMC dining hall.

According to Former Weinberg Family Dean of Keck Science and Professor of Chemistry David Hansen, “The Summer Science Immersion Program was constructed by the department to introduce participants to cutting-edge science and to the expectations and demands of college-level science coursework.” The students participated in interactive seminars, field trips, and hands-on laboratory experiences on topics including the structure and function of biomolecules, such as nucleic acids and proteins. As a final project, the students analyzed the genome and proteome of the bacterium Tetrahymena thermophila and had the opportunity to contribute their research results to an international database.  

Says participant Jazmin Lopez, SCR ’20, “I am grateful to SScIP because, as a student of color from a low-income background and a graduate of an underserved high school, I was allowed to get a sense of what it feels to pursue science in the Claremont Colleges. Also, SScIP allowed me space and time to adjust and make some friends (who are people of color!) from all over the 5C’s before the beginning of the semester so when orientation rolled around, I wasn’t as overwhelmed and lost as I would have otherwise been.”

The first day of programming introduced students to the introductory chemistry lab. In addition to training in laboratory safety (close-toed shoes, goggles, and long pants!), students performed two experiments and focused on good laboratory technique and accurate data-recording.  Students were able to build upon this knowledge later in the week when they assembled models of biomolecules, ultimately creating a polypeptide chain.

SScIP students Aleah Brooker (SCR ’20) and Deejah Taylor (PTZ ’20) in chemistry lab (L to R).


Reflecting on her SScIP lab experience, Lupe Flores, SCR ’20 says, “SScIP helped me gain confidence in college level classrooms. Even though I haven't taken a science course at Keck (yet) it has given me the skills that I need to thrive as a first generation college student. Asking for help, communicating with others, and preparing a presentation were just a few of the many skills I learned during the program.”

The concept of water and life on Planet Earth was extended to the search for life in the solar system and on exoplanets (planets in solar systems outside our own) during a visit to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

SScIP 2016 about to head to the Griffith Observatory.

Throughout the week, students learned about science as a discipline and science as a culture. Through interactions with science faculty as well as professors in the areas of psychology and sociology, the SScIP students established peer networks and learned about the importance of collaborative work. They travelled to California State University Los Angeles to engage in a dynamic discussion on common portrayals and expectations of scientists in the context of gender and race.  This was led by Patrick Sharp (Professor and Chair of Liberal Studies).

Keck Science faculty and staff with expertise in biology and chemistry led the program. The instructors included Tom Davis, Lab Lecturer in General Chemistry; Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, Associate Professor of Biology, Mary Hatcher-Skeers, Professor of Chemistry and Sidney J. Weinberg Chair of Natural Science; Aaron Leconte, Assistant Professor of Chemistry; and Marion Preest, Pritzker Family Foundation Professor of Biology and Interim Dean of Keck Science. The SScIP students also worked with Judy LeMaster (Associate Professor of Psychology, SCR) and Roberto Escobar (Director, Scripps College Academy) for a reading and discussion of Recitatif by Toni Morrison.  Eric Cruz Grave (PTZ ’19), Ifunanya Okeke (SCR ’19), Maria Rivera (back for her third year as a mentor!!; PTZ ’17), Katherine Whitman (CMC ’19) and Michaiah Young (CMC ’18) served as the peer mentors.

Peer Mentors Michaiah Young, Eric Cruz Garcia, Maria Rivera, Katherine Whitman, Ozi Okeke (L to R).

Additionally, SScIP alums (all of whom had also served as peer mentors), Maite Cortes Garcia (PTZ ’17), Anna Cechony (SCR ’17), and Leonida Radford (SCR ’17) moderated a “Pyjama Panel” one evening on the topic of adjusting to life in college.

The Keck Science Department hopes to build upon the success of SScIP by adding year-round programming to keep alums engaged throughout their college careers. Scripps College gratefully acknowledges HHMI and our two newest SScIP sponsors, the Beckman Coulter Foundation and Southern California Edison, for their generous support of this program.