BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - SMASH is the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy which helps underrepresented high school’s students of color. The academy was created to level the playing field, in hopes of making the tech world more diverse.
Those who enroll in the summer program have to be committed for three years. They take part in the hands-on college preparatory program where the focus is science technology engineering and math or STEM.
"Currently in STEM we don't see a lot of people of color. We see a majority of White, Asian males predominantly," says SMASH second year scholar Moises Limon.
"We learn computer science, biology, physics-- a lot of course we don't have at our everyday high schools," says SMASH third-year scholar Nicolette Nelson. Being part of the program is a major commitment. It runs over three years, for five weeks each summer, from the sophomore through senior years of high school.
Those enrolled in the programs are not called students but scholars.
"We really want to identify them as more than just students. They are preparing, they're on a college campus to be prepared to be college citizens," says Site Director SMASH Berkeley Jennifer R. Cohen Ph.D.
The scholars are given a taste of college life during the five-week academy.
They live in dorms on UC Berkeley campus around the clock. They're in class from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., with a break for lunch.
"They're not coming here to be babysat. They're coming here to learn and grow. We have college success courses so they can learn some of the soft skills involved with being successful in college," says Cohen. "This is a great program. I knew in my heart we were going to have fun. But it still was going to be educational," says SMASH First Year Scholar Miguel Hernandez.
Besides the academic aspect, the scholars have access to mentors. They learn about networking and public speaking. But perhaps the most important take away, the environment in which they are taught. Most of the instructors are people of color. Nearly half the scholars are girls.
The academy stresses diversity to uplift underrepresented people of color. 49 percent of the scholars are Latino, 26 percent African American, 8 percent multi-racial and 6 percent Southeast Asian. More than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced cost lunch and most will be the first in their family to attend college.
"These people of color you see around us the environment we're building is to sort of change that and these leaders that we're building in the future come towards more color in STEM," says Limon. "Us getting in this setting and learning these new things. We're leveling the playing field and we're going to get there," says Hernandez.
After 13 years SMASH success rate is through the roof. Just ask the parents and the program's founder.
"100 percent of our scholars have graduated high schools. 100 percent have been accepted to colleges. Half of our kids go to top one percent colleges and universities," says SMASH founder Freada Kapor Klein.
"They keep saying we can't find people of color to hire. Well this program is preparing those students of color to take their place within society," says SMASH Parent Cindy Nelson.
Besides Berkeley, SMASH is currently at UCLA Stanford campuses and just this year, UC Davis and Morehouse in Atlanta were added.
Scholars can only apply if they're entering their freshman year of high school. If you want to learn how to enroll your child log on to http://www.lpfi.org/smash/ for more information.