For the last five years, hundreds of 7th-10th graders have funneled through the Department of Education’s “MSI: Richmond” math and science program, thanks to funding from Altria. 

Altria recently renewed its support of the program with a three-year, $1.2 million grant. MSI comprises a five-week summer experience for students and a seven-week teacher professional development workshop, along with enrichment opportunities throughout the year. Patricia Stohr-Hunt, chair of the education department, wrote the grant request and developed the academic year programming component.

The program has traditionally accepted between 80 and 100 students, but this year it will likely hit capacity with 196. Waide Robinson, director of MSI, said the goal is to maintain the interest of underrepresented students in math and science through research projects and content literacy. 


“A lot of kids come into math and science but don’t stay there,” Robinson said. “We want to sustain that growth.”

Program participants come directly from Richmond City Public Schools, working in classes and laboratories for math, science, research and content literacy. For teachers, Robinson offers a class in content and pedagogy and teachers receive a stipend for participating. 

“The reason we do that is to make sure it’s more than just a math or science activity,” Robinson said. “We want to drive home that knowledge, to learn the basic elements of research such as literature review and talking about quantitative and qualitative analysis.”

With small classes of 12-14 students, teachers emphasize the development of scientific process skills and research-based activities so students can become more efficient learners. 

Robinson personally interviews each student who applies to ensure his or her interest — the program isn’t a “sports camp,” he said. Students must have a B average or higher, with SOL scores at 450 or above.

The program for 10th graders differs from the overall MSI program and is only open to 16 high-achieving students who have completed AP and IB courses. These students work alongside eight UR undergraduate mentors and each mentor works with two high school students to create research projects and presentations through digital storytelling. 

To sustain that interest in math and science, Robinson organizes career sessions in science and math with professionals, such as doctors and researchers, to expose the students to future possibilities. 

He also takes the students on field trips to other universities, such as Duke University, Georgetown University, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.

“We want them to be exposed to the university life,” he said. “That’s our goal. Not only will they come here to enjoy math and science, but they’ll be able to feel very comfortable in the classroom setting. In that sense, my goal is to make sure they have the right tools to sustain their growth in math and science.”

Originally printed in the spring 2012 issue of Artes Liberales.