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Early Risers Hit the Math Books Instead of Beach in ‘MISS’ Summer Program

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This July, high school student Esmeralda Antonio, 16, leaves her Los Angeles home at 5:30 every weekday morning to catch a train and a bus to Cal State Fullerton.

Brynn Campos, also 16, arrives on campus from her Anaheim home in time for the 8 a.m. class.

The teens, entering their junior year in the fall, are spending seven hours a day, five days a week in CSUF’s Mathematics Intensive Summer Session, known as Project MISS. The summer program gives students the opportunity to sharpen algebraic and precalculus concepts to get ready for their next year of high school math, as well as prepare for the rigors of university-level math and related majors.

Antonio wants to major in computer science, while Campos wants to study veterinary science. Both majors require strong math skills for college-level study.

The four-week program, which continues through July 27, has 58 students from 34 high schools in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Meals, books, materials and supplies are provided at no cost to the students, supported through private funding, including from Southern California Edison and the Fluor Corp.

To date, 1,750 students have completed Project MISS. About 1,710 of those students have gone on to college, said David L. Pagni, professor of mathematics, who conceived and has directed the program for 29 years — since the first class in the summer of 1990. Mathematics Department faculty members Cherie Ichinose and Alison S. Marzocchi assist with the program.

“There is a demand for Project MISS because high school students who want to go to college realize that math is the key to college entrance and to many majors as well, especially in the STEM disciplines,” said Pagni, a recipient of both the CSU’s and the university’s Outstanding Professor Award.

“A lot of students struggle with math, and that’s why they come here; they don’t want to struggle, they want to learn how to do math,” he added. “MISS is a nurturing environment. There are no grades and no homework. It’s a program where female students are taught by female peers who know math.”

For Project MISS, CSUF mathematics graduates who have completed the single subject credential program in math to become high school teachers teach classes in advanced algebra and precalculus. Current undergraduate math majors serve as tutors.  

“As instructors, we put into practice everything we learned in the credential program — and we also get the chance to try new teaching methods,” said CSUF alumna Jocelyn Renteria, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2017 and completed the single subject credential program in math this year.

“We’re empowering these young women and showing them that their math education can take them far,” she added. Renteria starts her first teaching position at Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana in August, where she will teach math in Spanish.

A first-time Project MISS student, Antonio wanted to take the precalculus class so she would excel in the same course this coming school year at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson. “This program is a great way to further your knowledge in math,” she said, adding that the instructors are motivating role models.

Campos, who attends Oxford Academy in Cypress, didn’t like math that much until after she enrolled in Project MISS last summer to brush up on algebra. “I had such a positive experience. I’m doing really well in math because of this program,” she added. Campos plans to take advanced calculus this school year.

Both students agreed that the program is helpful and engaging because instructors use games and other fun math exercises in between the academic lessons.

“I like the method of teaching because the math stays in your mind — so you don’t forget it,” Antonio said.