Dan Li spent his summer in a science lab, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
Li, who will be a senior at Verona High School this fall, was one of a handful of students from across New Jersey accepted into the New Jersey Governor’s School in the Sciences. The program, which was started by then Gov. Thomas Keane in 1984, allows a select group of students to spend three weeks immersed in college-level work in subjects from anthropology and biology to physics. Students live on campus at Drew University in Madison, attending lectures and labs, and collaborating on a group project: Li’s team project in chemistry was on controlled-release kinetics, the kind of science that modern medicine needs to make sure that that timed-release pain reliever you took this morning actually releases on time. Li’s team had to come up with a thesis, do the research and summarize it in a 20-page report. It’s title? “Relative Influences of Polarity and Crystallinity on Zero-Order Kinetic Release Through a Polymer Membrane.”
The three-week program wasn’t all hard work. After the classes and labs were done, there were often guest lecturers, talking about everything from Albert Einstein and drugs that changed the world to the mathematics of romance.
“The connections I made with people in the program were strong and I expect them to last a long time,” says Li, who was inducted into the National Honor Society at VHS this past spring. “It is nice to be in an environment with people who share the things you love.”
The Governor’s School is designed to foster that love of learning, and get students prepared for studying in a field of science in the future. “They want to see how well you like learning,” says Li, who is looking to apply what he learned to pre-med studies in college.
Just getting accepted to the Governor’s School is an accomplishment in itself. Each public and private high school in New Jersey is allowed to nominate a certain number of students based on the school’s size. For Verona, that means just one nominee. The VHS guidance department announced the rules for the nomination process last November and applications were due in March. Even with a nomination, attendance is not a lock: There were 350 applicants for 85 spots in the science program this year. Li is only the third VHS student to attend the Governor’s School in the Sciences in its 30-year history; fellow student Chris Sweeney was nominated for the Governor’s School in Engineering and Technology, held at Rutgers University, but was not chosen by that program.
Li has some tips for VHS students who want to try for the Governor’s School in the future: Double up in science, and show leadership in sports and other activities. Li has played on the varsity tennis team and in the VHS music program. One more thing: “If you want to be competitive you have to do well on the PSAT,” Li adds.
And perhaps cross your fingers that New Jersey will continue to support the Governor’s School concept. There were once six of the summer schools. But Gov. Jon Corzine eliminated all state funding to the program in 2006, and the schools in public issues, the arts, the environment and international studies have been closed. The sciences school and the program in engineering and technology continue to operate tuition-free thanks to private donations.
To get more information on the Governor’s School programs, see its Web site.