Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences

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The Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS) is one of the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence, a group of five-week summer programs for gifted high school students in the state of Pennsylvania. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has hosted the program since its inception in 1982. Most recently, it was directed by Physics Professor Dr. Barry Luokkala. Participants are required to be Pennsylvania high school students between their junior and senior years and are required to live in the dormitories for the full five weeks of the program. Admission is very competitive - approximately 500 of the most scientifically gifted students in the state compete for 56 to 60 slots in the program. The aim of PGSS is to promote interest in science rather than to advance students' knowledge in a specific area. The curriculum includes five "core" courses in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics, and numerous electives. In addition to taking classes, students are required to participate in a lab course and a research-style team project. The emphasis is on cooperation, rather than competition - students are encouraged to both collaborate with other students on academic work and to interact socially. The Residence Life staff provides a number of structured social events to foster friendship and teamwork. There is at least one event per day and is advertised on the social calendar in the dorm lobby. For many students, the social development gained from the program rivals the scientific knowledge they acquire. The students leave the program with a strong bond; most attend an organized reunion the following year after the 4th week of the program.

The program was discontinued in 2009 due to budget cuts by Governor Ed Rendell. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has proposed cutting funding for all the PGSEs, including PGSS, from the 2009-2010 budget.[1][2] The PGSS has received enough funding, and will be taking applications of interested students who wish to attend the 2013 summer program.

Core Courses[edit]

None of the teachers of the core courses are required to teach any one particular area or course. They are simply hired to teach a course in the general subject area. As a result, the core courses vary from year to year. However, it is typical for the Biology course to be in HIV/AIDS Biotechnology, the Chemistry course to be in Organic Chemistry, the Mathematics Course on Discrete Mathematics and the Physics course typically covers concepts in Modern Physics, often focusing on Special Relativity. The Computer Science Course covers basic programming concepts and offers independent study for those with experience.[3] As it is not unusual for a student in the PGSS program to be unfamiliar with a topic, it is common for the students to help one another to stay abreast of the workload. The core courses typically run fifty minutes each four days a week, with four courses each day from Monday through Friday. Students may drop one core course after two weeks, provided that they are taking at least one elective and have completed outstanding homework assignments in that course.[3] The core professors often return for multiple summer. Dr. Mark Farrell of Point Park University usually teaches the chemistry course and is the only faculty to have been with the program since the beginning of the program. Dr. Richard Holman of Carnegie Mellon has been teaching the physics core since the early 90's

Lab Courses[edit]

A laboratory course is offered in every subject except Mathematics. Typically, one or more inter-disciplinary laboratory courses are added, such as Forensic Science. These usually meet twice a week for three hours. Depending on the subject area, it may be required that the laboratory course and the Team Project be in the same area.


This is perhaps the second most variant course topic in the PGSS program, with the most variant being the team projects. Electives typically run for an hour twice a week. Taking more than four electives in addition to all of the core courses is not permitted without special permission from the director. Usually, several electives, including Astrophysics, Laser Technology, the Science of Music, Material Science and several Mathematics electives are consistently offered every year, although content in these courses may change. The Math Electives are taught by longtime PGSS faculty, Juan Schaffer, who is often revered by students for his mathematical genius and resemblance to Einstein.

Team Projects[edit]

All PGSS students are required to participate in a team project. The areas generally match the areas of the core courses. These team projects, each culminating in a final scientific research paper, are presented during the last week of the PGSS program known as "Team Project Week." During Team Project Week, no classes are held, due to the immense demand on the participants' time from their research paper and presentations. The final papers are compiled for the PGSS Journal.[4]


Typically, PGSS students must complete and hand in an assignment once a week for every core course, and must also hand in any homework for electives. This usually works out such that one core course assignment is due every weekday. The PGSS program strives to emulate the modern scientific community by encouraging collaboration and cooperation among students as they complete their assignments. The homework problems are often designed to require copious amounts of time and effort if one attempts to solve them without teaming up, thus encouraging a cooperative atmosphere. In addition to this, students participating in this program are not ranked among their peers, thus removing any reason for isolation solely to stand out.


From the inception of the program until 2000 the PGSS program used the Hamerschlag House (also referred to as the 'Schlag) as the coed residence for the students with the boys confined to one wing, and the girls to the other. In 2001 the program was moved to Morewood E tower floors 4-7 (each sex having 2 floors) with the lounge in Morewood Underground. The program briefly moved back to Hamerschlag before going to Mudge House starting in 2007, with girls living in the main house and boys confined to one wing.The 2013 program was housed in Donner House, with boys in the southern wing and girls in the northern wing.


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