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New Year, New Life for Governor's School

Ben Campbell, who works with laser technology, was challenged by one of his students to write the Gettysburg Address on the face of a penny.

Janet Hurwitz

Todd Mowry of Carnegie Mellon University

The Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS) is a summer program hosted by Carnegie Mellon University for high school students to conduct sophisticated research and study various scientific disciplines. When the state stopped funding the program in 2009, PGSS alumni and their parents were determined to bring it back.

For now, they have. 
Various inchoate revival efforts fused into the PGSS Campaign, a 501(c)3 non-profit that acquired Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) status. Janet Hurwitz, secretary of the PGSS Campaign and mother of an alumnus, helped locate about 85 percent of PGSS alumni and also many of their parents. She was spending 30 to 40 hours a week at the task, which prompted her husband to tease, "Which is your full-time job: your job or PGSS?" 
Representatives of the PGSS Campaign met with Governor Corbett and Education Secretary Ron Tomalis in 2011. Corbett and Tomalis supported the program but offered no money. They were, nonetheless, impressed with the alumni's mobilization and the money they had already raised.
While the PGSS Campaign lined up support at CMU to host and manage the program if it returned, the alumni donated more money and time to reinstate it. Reunions were held in Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, raising awareness and bringing in further help; an Indiegogo campaign raised $44,000.
The PGSS Campaign also reached out to corporate sponsors. PPG, which employs several PGSS alumni, contributed $15,000 through its PPG Industries Foundation. Teva Pharmaceuticals, with a location in Pittsburgh, offered $20,000. 
The PGSS Campaign, meanwhile, maintained contact with Tomalis, and last fall, he said that his department could offer a $150,000 grant to CMU to bring back the program as long as the funds were matched. According to Education Department spokesman Tim Eller, "The Corbett Administration's commitment to this effort is reflective of the Governor's view that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are important to the commonwealth's economy as well as the creation of high-paying jobs for citizens. This is about the future of Pennsylvania and ensuring that students are trained and jobs are available to grow the state's economy." 
By December 2012, the PGSS Campaign had matched the $150,000 but worked diligently to raise another $150,000 to operate PGSS in 2014, too. Hurwitz hopes the state can continue supporting the other half of the cost. Eller cautions, "Right now there is no plan for additional Governor's Schools; however, I cannot say what next year or future years may hold." 
The 2013 PGSS, which will run June 30 to August 3, will have space for 56 students who will attend, as usual, for free. Current high school juniors must apply by January 28. Hurwitz, a teacher at South Williamsport Junior/Senior High School, emphasizes that the program can change participants' lives, as it did for her son Jeremy and his friends. "Some people believe if kids are really smart, they'll succeed no matter what. That's not true--students need to be challenged and know what's out there for them." Now more will.

MARK MEIER is a writer, independent consultant, and part-time professor who lives in Dunmore and plants butterfly gardens in Scranton (which is his backyard). Send feedback here.
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