Summer program COSMOS gives students a chance to pursue STEM in a college atmosphere

May 23, 2019 — by Samantha Yee

The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science, or COSMOS, is a four-week summer residential program based at several University of California campuses that aims to motivate students to use what they learned at COSMOS to become “leaders for California, the nation and the world.”

The UC Santa Cruz website advertises the program as an opportunity to delve into scientific topics and experiences that normal high schools don’t offer within their curriculum. Senior Annie Xu, a COSMOS alumna, applied because she was eager to go into a program that lets her do research.

The program offers 11 clusters each centered on topics ranging from synthetic biology to robot engineering. The application process is competitive — according to a UC legislative report, the program has a 39 percent acceptance rate.

AP Biology teacher Cheryl Lenz has been getting requests for letters of recommendation for COSMOS for the past nine years, and she writes about up to seven letters for her students every year.

This year, the program changed its policy regarding letters of recommendation. A teachers’ strike in LA left many students without the chance to ask their teachers for letters of recommendation, so the program opted to not require them.

COSMOS isn’t exclusively offered to students from California, and there have been attendees from numerous other states, but the program’s popularity in California makes the applicant pool from the state much larger and more competitive.

COSMOS students participate in lectures, labs, projects and field trips that afford students the opportunity to explore any field within their cluster. Students work in groups and with professors to complete research projects, allowing them to explore their scientific passion on a level beyond that of their classic high school courses.

The most popular clusters are the hardest to be accepted into, and UC Davis’ COSMOS program has been the most popularly applied to one, for the biomedical science and biotechnology cluster.

UC Santa Cruz’s program branches into several clusters, such as marine mammals, oceanography and climate change. Its location near the coast also makes it easy for collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where students can learn oceanography on field trips.

“COSMOS is a research camp the very last two weeks if you’re in the chem cluster or the astrophysics cluster,” Xu said.

This was Xu’s critique of the program that separated it from a normal college experience — she didn’t get as much research in her cluster as she expected. Instead, she found the benefits of the program to be in networking. She was able to get a summer research internship because of the UC faculty that taught her.

“The main benefit that I gained from COSMOS, which is something that I would suggest to students that are going to go there in the next few years to do, is I formed a good relationship with my two faculty teachers,” Xu said. “Even though the camp itself was not that educationally beneficial . . . the people that you meet there, because they are research faculty at the schools, ended up being really valuable.”

The program is an experience that tries high school students’ hands at specified STEM interests and lets them interact with other educated people in their field.

“From the students at Saratoga who’ve talked to me about COSMOS, I think it just gives them a chance to explore [science],” Lenz said. “It varies a lot from what program you’re in — marine biology is going to be really different from cellular biology, but you do usually get field experience and a taste of what it is to do research.”

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