KINGSTON, R.I. — October 30, 2018 — For 25 years, the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) Program has helped instill a love of learning in these fields among students across the state. An afterschool enrichment program for students in grades four through 12, it provides them with opportunities to conduct experiments with wind turbines, magnets, math and more to help put them on a path to college.
Geared toward traditionally underrepresented and educationally underserved students, The SMILE Program has served more than 3,500 students since the program’s inception in 1994. Carol Englander, program director and former South Kingstown science teacher, said that SMILE continues to grow and its effects on students and their college readiness are impressive.
“SMILE really opens kids up to opportunities,” Englander said at the programs 25th anniversary celebration at the University in October. “It shows them that you really do want to be the smartest person in the room.”
“Each year, 44 million people come to college and do not finish their degrees. I see millions of people who could help solve the world’s problems today, particularly in STEM,” said Kathy Collins, vice president of Student Affairs. “In this program, I see students engaging in science and math with such hopeful enthusiasm.”
Since 1998, SMILE graduates have attended 237 different colleges and universities. During that period, 322 SMILE alumni attended URI and of those, 70 percent were STEM majors.
Englander and SMILE have been based at URI for 23 years, and Englander and her team work directly with URI faculty and students to provide assistance and programs.
The program is led by teachers who receive training at the University in August and December. At the training, they’re given all of the materials students need to work on the science projects for the year. Claire Steggall-Murphy, the middle school coordinator from East Greenwich, said that the program is critical exposure for students.
“Through SMILE, the students really get to see where a passion for math and science can take them,” she said. “There are so many ways that students can apply their interest in STEM. It shows them that higher education isn’t limited to the elite and wealthy.”
Throughout the year-long program, students work on different projects depending on their age level. Students have worked on designing and building submersibles vehicles, wind turbines and bridges.
At the end of the year, URI hosts statewide Challenge Weekends for middle and high school students, during which students stay in residence halls and eat at URI dining facilities. After being divided into teams, students work together to solve a problem based on a specific topic.
The program also offers several skill-building opportunities beyond academics. Steggall-Murphy added that this opportunity allows students as young 13 to be leaders to their peers, helping them to develop critical leadership skills.
“The most important part of the program is providing opportunities for students to move onto higher education, but also provides them the confidence to do so,” Augusto Gomes, a member of the SMILE Board of Directors, of East Providence, said. “One of the biggest benefits SMILE provides is that kids develop friendships and teachers become mentors, not just academically, but socially, and kids are taught to be good citizens.”
Emma Gauthier, a student writer in the URI Marketing and Communications Department and a journalism major, wrote this press release.