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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

High School Students Can Take Free College Classes at NJIT: New Enrichment Program Seeks to Cultivate In Students a Love of Science and Technology

Like many teenagers, Matthew Rodriguez is infatuated with video games. But unlike most of his peers, Rodriguez spends his Saturday mornings learning how to design computer video games at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). An NJIT professor is teaching him the computer codes and modeling that professional designers use to build video games.

“I love video games so learning how to create them is very exciting,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Edison. “I never realized the amount of work that goes into designing games. I’m learning more than I ever have before because I love the topic. Plus it’s a college-level class that will look great on my college application.”

Rodriguez, a junior at the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Technologies in Edison, is enrolled in a college class sponsored by NJIT’s Science and Technology Enrichment Program (STEP).

Reporters who would like to visit a class and interview Rodriguez and other students, contact Robert Florida at (973) 596-5203.

The new program is open to New Jersey high school students who are eager to learn hands-on science and technology. The program, which is free for students who are admitted, is offering five college courses for the upcoming spring semester. Students can apply by visiting the website http://www.njit.edu/step. The application deadline is Jan. 6.  For information contact Associate Professor Michael Baltrush at (973) 596-3386 or michael.a.baltrush@njit.edu.

The free, non-credit courses meet Saturday mornings, from 10 a.m. to noon on the NJIT campus. Women and minority students, both of whom are underrepresented in science and technology fields, are encouraged to apply. To be accepted, students must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average; submit two letters of recommendation from teachers and a 250-word essay describing their interest in science and technology. Classes run from Jan. 28-April 29. For the spring semester, the program will offer classes in video-game development, electronic devices, chemistry, computer science and real world team-based problem solving. Visit the website for full course descriptions.

The way the classes in the program are taught is a bit unorthodox. Students are not given homework or tests - just a lot of interesting discussions and hands-on class projects.

“Having no homework or tests definitely lifts a burden off my shoulders and lets me just focus on the fun aspects of the class,” Rodriguez said. “That really helps me retain what I’m learning because when you are interested in a subject and you don't have to do any extra work, you absorb the information more naturally. And since video games are my main interest in life, I’m learning tons. I’d highly recommend these classes to any high school student who likes science or technology.”

Narain Gehani, PhD, the program’s founding director and chairman of the computer science department at NJIT, is pleased with Rodriguez’s assessment of the class.

“We ban homework and exams in these vibrantly fun and lively classes,” Gehani said. “In the end, students will learn more than they ever have before while working on interesting projects such as designing their own video games. Like real scientists, when students love what they are doing it doesn’t seem like work but rigorous and rewarding play.”

The program, which began in the fall of 2005, aims to encourage high school students to study science and technology and to one day work as professional scientists, engineers and technologists.

“Compared to students in China, Japan and India, fewer American students choose careers in science and technology,” said Gehani. “That’s unfortunate and through this program NJIT is reaching out to young people in an attempt to counter that shortage.”

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.