Letter to MCPS Regarding Senior Research Project
March 3, 2015
To Whom it May Concern:
I write on behalf of the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Foundation to urge MCPS to restore funding for a teacher to supervise Senior Research Projects (“SRPs”) over the summer as part of the Blair Magnet Program. When we heard that the $2,500 exemption for paying the Magnet research teacher had been denied, we reached out to parents, students, and alumni of the Blair Magnet Program to help us communicate the importance of teaching student research at Blair. They responded with short notes and long essays about the importance of the SRP in their education and their careers. Here is what we have learned:
The Senior Research Project is one of the key experiences that alumni remember from their time at Blair. County Councilmember Craig Rice (District 6), an alumnus of the program, was recently invited to speak to Magnet parents and students, and he could still remember the title of his project and his mentor at USDA from the summer of 1989.
Completing an SRP has helped many alumni to get into college, to get summer jobs during college, to get into graduate school, and to launch their careers. Many students have had the opportunity to publish their research in scientific journals and to present their research at conferences where they are often the only high school student in attendance. Even for those alumni who don’t pursue a career in scientific research, the skills learned over the course of an SRP are widely applicable: Developing a research plan, working with a mentor, writing a substantial research paper, and delivering a formal presentation.
The $2,500 set aside for the Magnet research teacher for the summer more than pays for itself, since Intel awards schools $1,000 for each semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search. Since Intel began giving these cash awards in 2000, there have been 172 semifinalists from Blair, which is more than any other school in the country. Blair has received at least $5,000 every year, with a high of $17,000 in 2002. In better times, this money was used to help fund special field trips and extracurricular activities, but it is now being spent to replace supplies and equipment, and it is used to support countywide programs that are no longer being funded by AEI, like the Females in Science & Technology (FIST) conference for middle school girls.
Blair’s performance in the Intel Science Talent Search has been truly extraordinary, as the number of semifinalists (172) and finalists (26) since 2000 is the most of any school in the country. Despite having only around 90 students in the Blair Magnet doing research each year, these are better results than much larger magnet schools, such as Stuyvesant in New York or Thomas Jefferson in Virginia.
Current and former students speak in glowing terms about Ms. Bosse, the current Magnet research teacher, and alumni also express their love and appreciation for the teachers that preceded her. These teachers have been among the best in MCPS and have consistently gone above and beyond their responsibilities during the school year and over the summer, which has made a clear difference in the performance of Blair’s research students.
The research performed by Blair students has consistently brought national attention to Blair and MCPS. The New York Times and Washington Post published feature stories about the Blair Magnet in 1993 after three students finished in the top 10 of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Magnet student Jacob Lurie made many national headlines when he won first place in the 1996 Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now a Mathematics Professor at Harvard, Lurie also made recent headlines for winning a 2014 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant). When six students were named finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search in 1999, they were interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and articles praising the Magnet Program were published in the Washington Post and the Prism journal for the American Society for Engineering Education. The Washington Post now routinely reports on the success of Blair students, noting recently that “Blair has accumulated more Intel finalists than any other school in the country since 1999.” Donna St. George, “Three Intel finalists from Washington area high schools,” The Washington Post (January 21, 2015).
It is clear that the money invested in the Magnet research teacher over the years has paid for itself both through prize money and the immeasurable benefits of a hands-on education. The guidance of these teachers has changed the lives of many students, and it has helped Blair Magnet students perform at a level far above their peers in similar programs around the country. The $2,500 paid to the Magnet research teacher over the summer has proven to be one the best investments that the County makes in STEM education, and we urge MCPS to preserve this program and to continue funding it for Magnet students in generations to come.
Ted Jou '99
President, MBHS Magnet Foundation