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SMASH: A National Program Tackling Local Problems

For the past 15 years, our SMASH Academy has been on the cutting edge of research-based STEM programming for underrepresented high school students. While we started out at California institutions like UC Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA, we’ve been rapidly expanding outside the Golden State as well.

As we grow and expand, we know that a cookie-cutter approach to our curriculum is not going to, well, cut it.

Programming that is relevant to our scholars in the Bay may not always resonate with students in Detroit or Philadelphia. More importantly, SMASH isn’t just a national program — we’re deeply embedded in the communities we serve, and we are working within each community to tackle local problems.

Some aspects of SMASH are always going to be the same campus by campus. Everywhere we operate, our SMASH Academy is a 3-year, STEM intensive college prep program where students of color live on college campuses for 5 weeks at a time. Days are spent in classrooms and laboratories, and evenings involve speaker series’ and networking nights to introduce our scholars to professionals of color in the STEM fields.

With high expectations, a culturally-responsive curriculum, and high-quality teachers of color, our aim is to combat all of the structural barriers that have historically made STEM fields disproportionately white and male. Importantly, SMASH Academy will always be free of charge for our scholars and their families.

That’s what’s similar, but the real excitement comes in the differences campus to campus.

SMASH UC Berkeley scholars work in groups to understand the power and politics of food. Scholars get their hands dirty by volunteering in community gardens in Oakland and return to campus to roll up their sleeves and get to work figuring out tech solutions to food insecurity, a rampant problem in the Bay Area. On both intellectual and physical levels, scholars learn to apply passion and talents to real-world problems.

SMASH scholars at Wayne State University intersperse their STEM education with a focus on the African diaspora and African-American history. In Detroit, the largest Black city in America, a focus on the pioneers in math and science who worked within, among, and on behalf of Detroit’s Black communities is integral. By receiving a STEM education at SMASH Wayne State, scholars aren’t merely sharpening their toolboxes for their collegiate and professional pursuits, but they are also learning and teaching each other how to be well-informed, well-rounded young Black people in tech.

SMASH Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania takes many of the instructive elements at other SMASH sites and adds an added unique benefit. In addition to developing skills in math and science that all scholars will need as they enter college and ultimately the workforce, the scholars learn about obstacles in communities of color that can be overcome with STEM solutions.

One unique feature at SMASH Wharton: scholars take college-level business school classes from Wharton instructors, an unparalleled resource in the American business school ecosystem. Further still, those three elements of the SMASH Wharton experience meld, as scholars grapple with topics like the “economics of race,” how race-based policy can impact economic policy (and vice-versa), and how vestigial economic policy can impact how we use technology to solve problems.

SMASH will continue to expand, to reach more young geniuses in more communities around the country, and as we do, we will continue to be deeply rooted within the communities we serve.

We are a national program, but we’re working with local communities to solve local problems.