Urban Scholars Program Success

About 40 foster children spent time this week on the USF campus learning about STEM fields as part of the first Mind & Body Camp.


By Brandi Hollis

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 27, 2013) – It started with a phone call, “My son needs help passing the SAT so he can get into college.”


One phone call turned into five, then 10, and before long word had spread among parents that two professors at the University of South Florida were hosting free tutoring for students trying to pass college entrance exams like the SAT, or grade school tests like the FCAT.


Now, after nearly two decades, Chris P. Tsokos, distinguished university professor and director of statistics, has helped thousands of children with their reading, writing, and math skills after a phone call led to the creation of the Urban Scholars Outreach Program at USF.


His success has led to a partnership with the state Department of Children and Families and its Camp for Champions, along with Derrick Brooks Charities, Eckard Youth Alternatives, Wells Fargo, and Forward Thinking Initiatives to host the first Mind & Body Camp at USF for foster children who want to go to college.


This week, 40 foster children had the opportunity to explore a college campus and work in college laboratories doing hands-on experiments in STEM fields.


Tsokos said the merit of engaging disadvantaged children in math, science and engineering, is giving late-bloomers a chance to excel in STEM fields which will lead to their excellence in school and eventually their contribution to society. He pointed out that those students who are making good grades already have the motivation and support needed to excel in a college atmosphere.


“We should have a STEM program for disadvantaged children,” said Tsokos, “If we can get one or two of those disadvantaged children, we’ve done more good than taking a bright student and trying to motivate him to study mathematics or engineering.”


The three-day camp used experiments with cell phones, robots, and statistics from professional football to teach the students the importance of STEM fields and pique their interest.


“What we’re trying to show the students at this level is that we live in a probabilistic society, everything we do in our daily lives is structured by statistics and probability, everything.”


Tsokos hopes to continue the partnership with DCF to host another camp for foster children. He continues to direct the Urban Scholars Program at USF which tutors third grade and up and accepts every student who applies. The program offers tutoring every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon during the regular USF semester and also provides a computer skills class to interested parents who are waiting for their children.