On Wednesday, Nov. 20, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Arneson served as the honorary Principal for a Day at MAST@FIU. The annual program is intended to give leaders in the community an opportunity to experience what life is like for Miami-Dade County public school (M-DCPS) students.
MAST@FIU launched in August of this year. Georgina Koch, lead teacher and program administrator, said her desire to strengthen ties even more between M-DCPS and FIU lead her to offer Arneson the role of Principal for a Day.
After meeting with the administrative staff and some teachers, Arneson headed to the classrooms, housed in AC-I at the Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC). It was there that he was inundated with questions and requests from the eager ninth grade students.
“Can we use the pool and the basketball courts?” asked one freshman.
“Do you think we can eat the food in the food court rather than the school lunch?” said another. “Because the burgers are really good, ya know?”
Arneson happily noted the requests and told the students he would take them into consideration.
MAST@FIU currently serves 88 ninth-grade students and is expected to add an additional 100 students this fall.
“Most students your age don’t get to experience what it’s like being on a college campus,” he told the science class. “This is going to give you an upper hand when you get to college. A lot of your experiences now will serve you later.”
The lively students also shared their craving for more student clubs and cultural activities, including a debate team, dance club and art classes. In another classroom, when asked about what colleges they want to attend, the room quickly filled with hands raised high. Arneson was proud to hear FIU among the high level of schools they are considering.
“We’re trying to focus the students on being college bound,” Koch said. “One research class we have gives students the opportunity to research potential colleges and scholarships.”
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-focused high school program provides a unique opportunity for students to experience college level courses and use the resources of the university to advance their learning and understanding of higher education accessibility. Part of the curriculum requires students to take one online course per year. Koch feels online courses are a mainstay in college classrooms today and wants her students to be prepared.
“I was very impressed with students at that age already researching and preparing for college,” Arneson said.
While some of the students are children of doctors, lawyers and other working professionals, not all come from upper middle class families.
“Sixty-four percent of our students are on free or reduced lunches,” Koch said. “Some students travel over one hour to attend this magnet program. The students are very hungry for these opportunities.”
The faculty at BBC have also embraced the school, conferring with teachers and often hosting guest lectures for students.
“The students and teachers expressed great satisfaction about being at FIU,” Arneson said. “They feel they are part of a special place dedicated to learning.”
Both Arneson and Koch believe the success of the program will speak for itself.
“We are forming a strong partnership that is benefiting both parties and especially our students,” he said. “I am sure we have many future Panthers in this group of intelligent and engaged young people.”
Koch couldn’t agree more.
“Many schools offer advanced academics,” she said. “Only at MAST@FIU can we offer advanced experiences in the university setting.”