Setting a career trajectory starts long before college applications are mailed out. Encouraging more students to pursue a post-secondary degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects involves sparking their interest early, and making sure they have properly prepared by taking the right secondary school courses.

That is the idea behind the Proyecto Science Summer Program, which aims to provide early exposure, instruction and support in STEM.

In the East Hanover Township school district about 60 students in grades seven through nine participate in the five-week long program. The program runs in a three-year cycle, beginning with the seventh-graders, and classes are traditionally held on the campus of New Jersey City University (NJCU), with a satellite program at East Hanover Middle School.

The Proyecto faculty offer intensive courses in mathematics courses such as algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, calculus, probability and statistics; science courses such as biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, logic and set theory, finite mathematics and JAVA programming.

“The program runs Monday through Thursday, and courses rotate based on availability,” said Robert P. Mooney, interim superintendent at East Hanover. “I believe last summer our students participated in advanced math classes, and in physics and computer courses. “

Participants are recommended by their schools according to the Proyecto Science eligibility criteria. Students who successfully complete the seventh-grade summer course are invited back for the second and third years.

“This program has allowed our students to participate in a highly-specialized, rigorous and robust summer experience that is directly connected to our academic objectives,” noted the district’s School Leader Award nomination statement.

The Proyecto program evolved from Proyecto Access, a nationwide summer enrichment program developed in 1996 by NASA and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) to increase the number of middle and high-school students interested in pursuing STEM careers. New Jersey City University was involved in the national program from 1997-2005, when NASA discontinued the program’s financial support. In the spring of 2005, with financial support from donors such as participating school districts, Provident Bank, HACU, and the school districts of Bayonne and Jersey City, NJCU opted to continue the program under the name of NJCU Proyecto Science Consortium. (Bayonne and Jersey City students also participate in the Proyecto program.)

In 2009, Proyecto Science expanded to a second site in East Hanover; since then additional donors, including Novartis, have supported the project.

“I think it’s a wonderful blending of support from New Jersey City University, Novartis and the East Hanover students and staff,” said Mooney. “The students devote about half their summer to advanced work in the STEM areas, which, as we know, is critical for the future of our country. “

In 2013, the Proyecto Science program at East Hanover was recognized by the School Leader Award program. The awards honor New Jersey school districts that improve student learning through unique educational efforts. Programs are judged based on their level of innovation, how well they meet the specific needs of students, the relationship of the program to the state’s curriculum standards, and program results.