2012-09-14 / Neighbors

Resident follows path to Pioneers

University of Southern Maine program features top math, science students
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Christopher Fitzgerald, a 2012 graduate of Scarborough High School, has been accepted into the University of Southern Maine’s Pioneers program, a first-of-its-kind honors program for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Fitzgerald is majoring in biology and is interested in pursuing a career in genetics. (Courtesy photo) Christopher Fitzgerald, a 2012 graduate of Scarborough High School, has been accepted into the University of Southern Maine’s Pioneers program, a first-of-its-kind honors program for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Fitzgerald is majoring in biology and is interested in pursuing a career in genetics. (Courtesy photo) A life-long love of science has earned Christopher Fitzgerald, a 2012 graduate of Scarborough High School, a position in Pioneers, a prestigious mathematics and science program at the University of Southern Maine.

The program, the state’s first honors program for college students studying science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), was launched last year.

According to the program’s website, “Pioneers is a learning community bringing together Maine’s best and brightest students in STEM fields.”

The students who are accepted into the program receive a four-year scholarship, paid summer internships and opportunity to work with USM professors on research projects.

This year 72 students applied to join the Pioneers program. Less than half, or 32, were granted interviews and 13 of them were accepted into the program.

Fitzgerald applied to USM and was accepted to the university in spring and found out he had been accepted into the Pioneer Program just before the school year ended.

Fitzgerald said participation in the program will help him make connections with scientists on campus and in the area.

“It helps us to get more involved with a bunch of different people who could help us pursue what we are interested in after school,” Fitzgerald said.

Not even two weeks into the school year, Fitzgerald said he is already immersed in the program.

“One of the big things we are doing right now is a big group science project,” Fitzgerald said. “It is part of a nationwide science project sponsored and funded by NASA where we have to design a set of experiments with a weather balloon to take different readings about the stratosphere.”

According to the program’s website, “by graduation, Pioneer scholars will have completed 1,000 hours of high-impact, experimental learning opportunities designed to deepen their knowledge in STEM and prepare them for careers after graduation.”

Because of the nature of the program, Fitzgerald said he has quickly made friends with many of the other students in the Pioneer program.

“We live together on one wing of the dorm. We are a really tight-knit group. We take similar classes because we are all science majors,” Fitzgerald said. “It makes taking classes easier.”

Fitzgerald said he has always had an interest in science. That interest increased in middle school when he began learning about biology and genetics, a topic he would like to focus on at USM.

Fitzgerald said he knew USM was a fit for him as soon as he saw it.

“It was the local school and one of the first schools I toured,” Fitzgerald said. “I liked the campus. Over the summer I shadowed a couple chemistry and biochemistry professors so I got to know some of the staff and students and I really liked it.”

Fitzgerald is taking five courses: chemistry, microeconomics, philosophy, freshman English and an entry year experience class on green technology and renewable energy.

Fitzgerald said he is focusing on academics right now, but hopes to get involved with some campus activities before too long.

“I’ve really enjoyed the campus and I’ve really enjoyed the program,” he said. “It’s been a good experience so far.”

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