New Science Students Explore “Chemistry of Life” in Summer Immersion Program

Two young African American women wearing goggles and gloves white looking at a test tube in a science lab.

Gazing up at the stars, Kiana Harnish ’23 considered the search for water, and thus life, on planets beyond Earth. Along with 29 other first-year students from Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges, Harnish was at the Griffith Observatory’s planetarium show, Water is Life, one of the field trips organized by the Summer Science Immersion Program (SScIP) for the W.M. Keck Science Department. Now in its seventh summer, the weeklong program is an introduction for new students to the rigors of college-level science coursework.

In addition to visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the Bernard Biological Field Station in Claremont, students attend lectures and workshops and participate in lab activities. They also interact with peer mentors, former SSCiP participants who help first-year students acclimate to campus life before the fall semester begins. The program also has a social element, including moonlight swimming and a scavenger hunt—all in service of providing a holistic foundation upon which new students will launch their time at the 5Cs.

“The Summer Science Immersion Program is the perfect opportunity to get a head start on college-level science and also to alleviate some of the anxiety about starting college and meeting new people,” Harnish says.

The theme of the 2019 SScIP session was “The Chemistry of Life.” “In an interdisciplinary department like Keck Science, it’s important for our students to appreciate early on that the lines between disciplines can, and should, be blurred. Integrating chemistry and biology in this program gives the students a taste of this,” says Marion Preest, Pritzker Family Foundation Professor of Biology and the current director of SScIP.

“It’s important to the faculty and staff at Keck for these—and all Keck—students to realize that we’re there to do what we can to support them and help them succeed. For SScIP students, this includes giving them a head start in a chemistry lab, offering a workshop on being smart about finances, getting them to think about why it matters who ‘does’ science, and helping them start to get a feel for The Claremont Colleges and the L.A. area as their new home.”

The program is open to first-year students who plan to enroll in introduction biology and/or chemistry during their first semester and who are first-generation, from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, or from under-resourced high schools. “Advanced Placement courses in science weren’t offered at my high school,” says Harnish. “But I knew I wanted to major in science, and this program offers the best way to acclimate in.”