Thursday, October 12, 2017

UIS offers first on campus dual credit class to high school students as part of a pilot program

The University of Illinois Springfield is offering its first on campus dual credit class for high school students as part of a pilot program. The class marks the first time UIS has offered high school students college credit for a class taught by a university faculty member.

The pilot course, CHE 199A: General, Organic, and Biochemistry, is being offered to 18 seniors from Springfield’s Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (SHG). The students earn both college and high school credit for the course. If the program is successful, the university hopes to expand course selection and offer classes to students at other high schools in central Illinois.

The pilot class is taught by UIS Associate Professor of Biochemistry Stephen R. Johnson. As part of the class, SHG students meet on campus twice a week for lecture early in the morning and have a laboratory class every Friday morning.

“It gives them a jumpstart in the sense that they have some college credit,” said Johnson. “They get to see that college is not like high school. The course work is more rigorous, it’s faster. I mentioned in class today that some of the material they need to know is from external sources. That’s a very novel thing for many high school students.”

Johnson, who has two children who are currently attending SHG, came up with the idea for the pilot class after speaking with fellow parents and teachers at the school.

“At times we’ve sat around at a football game and asked, how do we enhance our science program? I always thought, if those kids could see something beyond the high school curriculum that would really be something great. That’s sort of how it came about.”

SHG senior Taylor Rahn, a 17-year-old from Springfield, who is taking the dual credit class plans on becoming a biochemist.

“The class is really helping me see what biochemistry is all about and I fall more in love with it every day,” she said. “It’s really an eye opener to see what college life is like being on campus and seeing what is expected and how lectures work.”

SHG principal Kara Rapacz says she’s grateful her students are getting to take college classes off campus at UIS.

“Attending the biochemistry course on the UIS campus is an extraordinary experience for our students,” she said. “SHG students have had the opportunity to take many dual credit courses on our own campus, but sending our students off to a college campus for class is new territory for us. This opportunity will allow them to utilize state-of-the-art lab equipment and gain exposure to cutting-edge technologies.”

Johnson says the pilot class starts with a review of general chemistry the students have already learned at SHG, but soon takes them into aspects of chemistry beyond what is taught at the high school level, i.e. organic and biochemistry. The course is designed to get them thinking about future careers in the field.

“We hope they leave the course with an overall look at the chemistry that would be involved if they stay in the health fields, whether they are professionals like physicians or want to do research, like biochemistry,” he said.

UIS Director of Admissions Fernando Planas says students can apply the credits earned from the class towards a degree at UIS or have an official transcript sent to their college of choice for use at that institution.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for SHG students. It provides them with a unique college experience while still in high school, allows them to earn college credit, and lets them experience for themselves UIS’s excellence in teaching,” he said.

Johnson hopes that the pilot program will be the inspiration for more dual credit classes at UIS and across the entire University of Illinois System.

“Inevitably it might even attract some students to say ‘hey, we like what we’re seeing at UIS’ and they’ll stay here for undergraduate work, so it has a lot of potential growth as we go forward,” he said.