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Project MISS: 25 Summers of Student Success

High School Math Program Helps College-Bound Girls Get Math

July 30, 2014

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David L. Pagni, professor mathematics and founder of Project MISS, helps helps Ashley Reyes from Anaheim High School solve a math problem.

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In the summer of 1990, David L. Pagni, professor of mathematics, began changing the lives of female high school students by offering mathematics instruction to build their confidence and prepare them for the rigors of college.

Every summer since, as founder and mentor, Pagni has been leading Project MISS — Mathematics Intensive Summer Session — a four-week program that has helped more than 1,500 teenage girls from underrepresented ethnic groups bolster their algebra, geometry and precalculus skills. With 57 participants this summer, the program wraps up Aug. 1.

Project MISS draws young women from across the region and is offered at no cost — made possible mostly through private support. With Project MISS offering its 25th session this summer, the program continues to rely on past participants to serve as instructors and tutors, some of whom are CSUF teacher credential students, math undergrads and alumni.

Program successes include a nearly 98 percent college-going rate for MISS participants, with many the first in their families to attend college. The award-winning mathematics educator, who has taught at CSUF since 1969, discusses his quarter-century of work to bolster the mathematical prowess of young women who want to succeed in college.

Why serve underrepresented females?

There is a shortage of young people, including females from underrepresented ethnic groups, choosing the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields. MISS is designed to serve this group. Although only about 25 percent of MISS students choose a STEM college major, the need still exists to support first-generation students to attend college. That also is why MISS teamed up with GEAR UP [a program to help disadvantaged students prepare for and pursue college] on our campus to support this experience for students from the GEAR UP schools.

What are some of the benefits of MISS?

Students who attend MISS have the opportunity to mix and work with other like-minded students who are serious about college. This is done in a supportive atmosphere, free of criticism or bullying, where students can have fun, yet learn to trust their ability to do mathematics. During the program, female role models in business and industry come on campus to speak to the young women and offer advice on succeeding in school and work, even when balancing family responsibilities. These experiences help students to choose education and hard work to reach their goals.

What are some of the program's highlights?

In November 1992, MISS was featured as a founding member of the SUMMA Consortium, a project of the Mathematical Association of America's Strengthening Underrepresented Minority Mathematics Achievement Program. MISS continues to be part of SUMMA and is listed in its Directory of Mathematics-based Intervention Projects. MISS has also been recognized by Excelencia in Education in the organization's 2007-2013 editions of "Examples of Excelencia: What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education Compendium." MISS also was featured in Lumina Foundation's Focus magazine in a 2011 article entitled, "Programs Have a Clear STEM-phasis."

What are you most proud of?

I'm proud of our own CSUF students who are the instructors and tutors for the program. I work with them to offer the MISS students an experience that will support their aspirations. They are female role models who make it fun and rewarding for the high school students to put forth their best effort to learn new math concepts, as well as how to think like a mathematician. I'm also pleased with our administrators who've been supportive of offering this program, since to me, it's part of our community service responsibility.

Media Contacts:
David L. Pagni, Project MISS
Debra Cano Ramos

Tags:  Academics & Research