Science & Research

University partners with high school to pilot pre-college engineering program

Fontbonne Hall Academy students to take online course, receive scholarships

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2015

Students from Fontbonne Hall Academy work on projects as part of the pilot Brown Pre-College Scholars Program in Engineering.

The University has launched the Brown Pre-College Scholars Program in Engineering, a new program that allows students at a private, Catholic, all-girls school in Brooklyn, New York to take an online course led by a Brown professor during class time, said Ren Whitaker, director of online development for the School of Professional Studies.

Twenty-two students at Fontbonne Hall Academy have been learning about engineering design principles and collaborating on biomedical, materials science and renewable energy engineering projects through the online course, according to a joint press release.

Karen Haberstroh, director of STEM outreach and assistant professor of engineering, serves as the lead instructor of the online course. “The course is designed so that (Haberstroh) can interact with the students asynchronously on a regular basis,” Whitaker said, adding that Haberstroh also “connects via video conference to help them better understand the coursework and to get to know the students.”

Outside of class, the students work in groups to develop their own engineering projects, said Adam Segall, STEM specialty programs coordinator at Fontbonne. The students finished building prototypes for wheelchairs last week, he said.

Haberstroh and co-facilitator Indrek Külaots, a lecturer in engineering, have worked closely with instructional designers from the School of Professional Studies and Fontbonne teachers to design the course, which “knits together” Brown’s four previously-existing online engineering courses, Whitaker said.

“The feedback from the students has been 100 percent positive,” Segall said. “Working their way through the engineering process has really opened their eyes to engineering as a possible career choice.”

Maryann DeLuca, college bridge director at Fontbonne, wrote in an email to The Herald that she reached out to Whitaker last September to propose the course, as Fontbonne prioritized STEM but did not have an existing engineering program. “I chose Brown University because of its commitment to diversity and sustained outreach to women and minorities,” DeLuca wrote. “Brown was the one and only university I initiated conversations with.”

“The timing was exquisite because we had been thinking about how we might be able to connect with high schools not only in the U.S., but also abroad,” Whitaker said. “It was a gift when they reached out because we could conduct this pilot on a very small and intimate scale to make sure we did it really well.”

James Chansky, director of summer session and pre-college programs, said the proposal fit in with the School of Professional Studies’  mission of “bringing the capabilities for teaching that we have to high school students.”

Fontbonne Principal Mary Ann Spicijaric said she anticipates an increase in students’ interest in Brown as a result of the program. The class will visit the University in November as part of the partnership, she said.

Four program participants will also receive scholarships to attend Summer@Brown this summer, Spicijaric said. Though the process for awarding the scholarships has not been discussed, the criteria will likely involve “performance and financial need,” she said.

While the pilot was established as a “one-year experience,” students would likely be “disappointed if there’s nothing that follows it,” Spicijaric said, adding, “What we are doing with Brown is so different, so unique, so novel — it’s a fantastic addition to what we already have here.”

“We will see how the Fontbonne model works and take what we learn,” Chansky said. “If we learn this is incredibly successful and that there are other schools that are eager to connect with us in this way, then presumably we would move in that direction.”

The partnership was not developed solely to engage girls in STEM, but the fact that Fontbonne is an all-girls’ school “does make it special,” Whitaker said, adding that future programs would seek to engage other underrepresented groups.

Chansky and Whitaker both emphasized that the program is still in the first few weeks of its first iteration, and the future of the program remains to be shaped.

“I know that whatever we do (in the future) needs to be based on a careful assessment of outcomes,” Chansky said. “We still need to figure out the extent to which they’re learning, and how deep that learning is.”


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  1. communtityrelations says:

    thank goodness we don’t have any young students in RI that would benefit from something like this

  2. Why these piddling attempts? Brown, why are you so cautious? How about $100 million a year?

    To wit:

    A gift of $100 million a year to

    We would like to
    give $100 million per year to Brown. This money could be used to offset tuition
    fees, pay professors more, and support Brown’s current budget, which is in
    deficit. We have proposed this to
    Christina Paxson and several leaders within Brown’s administration.

    We in Northern
    California have created a plan to significantly increase Brown’s
    revenues. We are students from
    before birth, and remain students until we die. Those who are fortunate
    enough to attend Brown bring their own experiences and relationships with them.
    Our proposal outlines how Brown can participate in the learning process
    for high school students, with a goal of exposing students to Brown professors
    and students, developing and reinforcing a Brown-student relationship well
    before the admissions process begins.

    The key benefits to
    Brown are:

    1. Brown can
    add $100 million in revenues by teaching AP courses.

    2. This program would
    benefit both high-income and low-income high school students, as well as local
    teachers, Brown professors and Brown students (as paid

    3. This gives you Brown
    to increase student acceptance
    rate (now at 60%) and improve the number of high-potential poor
    students (a key target).

    proposal outlines a plan for Brown to offer AP courses in select schools,
    starting with Northern California. These
    courses would be co-taught by the local AP teacher and Brown professor,
    assisted by Brown students acting as proctors.
    The goals of the program are:

    1. To
    offer the students a compelling, interesting and informative set of courses.

    2. To
    expose promising high school students to Brown professors and students.

    3. To
    give Brown visibility on promising students who may become good candidates to
    attend Brown.

    4. To support schools which may need
    teaching resources in inner-city and poorer school districts, and support their
    local efforts.

    fundamental principles of this program are that (1) it must be financially
    self-supporting, (2) it offers a first-class educational experience that is
    rewarding for Brown students and professors as well as students, and (3) that
    it works in concert with local resources, with full backing of the high

    is offered

    educational product would consist of the following:

    A set of internet lectures using
    the Khan Academy format on AP subjects, given by a professor at Brown.
    These lectures are normally watched by the students online at home
    (as homework).

    A set of exercises and questions
    which are answered by the students during class time.

    A teaching guide for the local AP
    teacher. The teacher uses this guide and assists students in class
    to answer questions and do exercises.

    Tests to be proctored by the local
    AP teacher which are submitted for grading to Brown students assisting the
    professor (Brown students are paid for this course assistance). Results
    are then shared with the AP teacher and Brown (for certification).

    If applicable, online textbooks as
    a part of the educational offering.

    will pay?

    those who have the greatest stakes in the education of students: parents,
    teachers, guidance counselors, who are willing and able to pay. “Rich”
    schools’ parents pay for their child’s certificate. Some scholarships
    offered. “Poor” schools parents pay, but with a great deal more
    scholarship assistance.

    are the target markets?

    the world. The “freemium” model can be disseminated on YouTube and used
    by millions. The “certificate” model is also freely expandable (same
    professor, more Brown student proctors).

    much effort is involved?

    A Khan
    Academy format requires very little professor time and effort. With a
    virtual “blackboard” and voiceover, the professor can video a series of
    lectures based on his/her Brown classroom offerings.

    school students in the “certified” program will require support. This
    would be provided by Brown students working at the direction of a Brown
    professor. These students’ main tasks would include grading courses,
    answering teachers’ and students’ questions, and monitoring feedback.


    scholarships administered by Brown in collaboration with local guidance counselors.

    We have shared the entire plan, with revenues
    and costs, with top members of the administration at Brown. It is also available for public view at

    So, what’s stopping
    us? Let’s make this happen.

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