Has PGSS touched your life? Submit a testimonial!

Al Cangahuala (Class of 1982)

I was a member of the first class, then known as PSS, in 1982 (amidst a tough year for Pennsylvania’s economy). PGSS made a positive difference to my life in several ways that just aren’t possible in high school:

• PGSS provided me the only opportunity in my life to immerse myself in mathematics and science around the clock. Immersion, especially as a teenager, was essential to helping me understand and take ownership of the concepts at the heart of the different science disciplines - similar to the benefits of immersion in learning a different language.

• Through the unique PGSS lectures and demonstrations, I learned that in order to make a lasting advance in science and/or technology, it usually takes about 10 years from when you start. Setting expectations at an early age is important for young engineers, especially when working in a new technology where there are few ways to gauge your progress.

• The PGSS model also served as great preparation for college. I eventually went on to MIT, and I got a good start, thanks to the rigor of the PGSS curriculum and the support from the PGSS faculty.

• PGSS also helped show that it’s not enough to be smart if you want to make advances in the world – you have to work as part of a team. I still think about the quality of the teams that I was on in PGSS projects – those teams still set the bar for teams that I work with today.

After PGSS and MIT, I went on to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, starting out in Deep Space Navigation for interplanetary spacecraft. Navigation is a very interdisciplinary art, and the PGSS curriculum prepared me for that field by empowering me to master the many areas (statistics, geodesy, signal processing, etc.) required for my work.

I had always thought that PGSS was intended as an investment in young people so that they would in turn study, work, and settle down in Pennsylvania. Having gone off to Massachusetts and California, I may not line up with the original vision of PGSS, but I have never forgotten my roots. As a member of the Astrodynamics Technical Committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), I successfully lobbied to hold the AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference in Pittsburgh in 2009 (see http://www.space-flight.org/docs/2009_astro/Final_Program.pdf). This not only brought benefits to the Pittsburgh economy, but the fruitful discussions spawned at the conference ultimately led to collaborations that benefited many states, including Pennsylvania.

My fellow PGSS alumni and their families have made contributions of money and time to help the state get PGSS restarted in recent years.  Their efforts, as well as those of the PGSS staff, have resulted in a wonderful state gem.  I believe that my home state and country benefit many times over from these investments - please consider helping out as you can.

Marshall Hampton (1990)

I learned a tremendous amount at PGSS.  It made me realize how much I was capable of - I had never really been challenged in high school.  My first year at Stanford University, while challenging, seemed fairly sedate in comparison and I was much better prepared for my classes there than I would have been without PGSS.

Erica Musser (1998, TA 2002)

I grew up in a very poor and very rural area of Pennsylvania. My high school physics text book was from the 1970s despite graduating in 1999. I was a first generation college student and the first in my extended family to get an advanced degree/PhD. While my parents were mostly supportive of my academic success and pursuits, my peers in my hometown were not. PGSS opened up my eyes to the support network that a serious scientist can find in academia. I was able to form supportive friendships with people who understood and promoted my love of learning. I'm confident that I wouldn't have experienced many of the opportunities to which I was exposed or had the belief in myself to reach my goals without PGSS. It is such an important program, especially for students from under-served communities and populations.

Kim Lindner (Class of 1988)

As a gifted student coming from a very modest home situation (lived with my divorced working mother, low income, high school with low  graduation/college attendance statistics) PGSS was definitely a game-changer in my life.  For a few weeks I was transported to a place where academic excellence was celebrated and a world of possibilities spread out before me.  I didn't truly understand what I could aspire to be until I went there and had the chance to mingle with kids who were like me and professors and counsellors who showed me what college could offer.  It was a little frightening too:  so many of the kids had parents who were scientists and doctors themselves, came from better schools, were simply better prepared.  I could see I was behind, but I  also knew I could catch up.  And I did.

I was valedictorian of my own high school.  I went on to the University of Pennsylvania (financial aid and scholarships, obviously) and received a Bachelors in Biology, was accepted to Yale Graduate School Department of Biology where I went on to receive two Masters.... My husband (an actuary) and I make it a point to foster a sense of wonder and curiousity in science.... In a way, you could say PGSS has fostered two generations of scientists.  

For someone with my background, college isn't necessarily a given.  Even if you're smart, talented, and qualified it might not be enough to get you on the path to college.  I think of some of my peers at my own high school who were just as smart, just as talented as I was.  They were in my school's gifted program too (I don't know if PA still mandates gifted education, I know at the time my school was fighting to shut it down as a cost-saving measure, in any event my school's program was more of a token gesture than anything of substance) so that means they had IQ's of at least 130.   Many of them never made it to college.  Frankly, some of them barely graduated.  When nobody is there to show you the possibilities, when all you see is your world, sometimes it is very hard to see what else might be out there.  What a colossal waste.  That is what was so special for me about PGSS: an opportunity for someone who otherwise would never have been able to have it.  

To be clear, I had never even heard of the University of Pennsylvania before I went to PGSS.  My high school guidance counsellor encouraged me to apply to trade schools.  She couldn't see past my situation (poor kid from a broken home) to my person (smart, motivated, high SAT scores, high IQ, and the highest grades in her own high school).  If the person who is supposed to be your mentor can't see your potential, how are you supposed to?  After going to PGSS, I could.  

Eric Bennett (Class of 1992)

PGSS was the first environment I ever experienced where everyone around me was full of enthusiasm for science and I didn't have the vast majority of people in the room considering me an oddball for wanting to dig deeper into something. I can't understate the motivational impact that had on me as a young person with a developing interest in science. But PGSS didn't just make an impression on me. The description of my experience at PGSS accounted for much of my admissions essays when I applied for undergraduate studies. One well known private institution offered me a half tuition scholarship and in their admissions letter they specifically stated they were impressed with my PGSS experience. On my bookshelf I still have my Journal of the PGSS with all the work we did, and I also still have our unofficial class T-shirt... full of holes but also full of memories...

Marguerite Eisenstein Taylor (Class of 1985)

PGSS truly paved the way for my present career. I'm a Ph.D. mathematician  working in the U.S. Department of Defense. PGSS isn't just a service to a few students; it's a service to the country.

"The Itch My Knee Game Me" by Henry Geiter, Jr. (Class of 1983)

Sometimes, PGSS reqiures more than a testimonial. Sometimes, it requires a short story.

Check out "The Itch My Knee Gave Me" by Henry Geiter, Jr., from the class of 1983.

Thad Starner (Class of 1986)

PGSS introduced me to a quality of education and level of personal performance I did not know existed.   It helped me stand out from the other MIT applicants so that I was admitted.  It provided me the first lessons I would need to become a undergraduate researcher, PhD student, and professor.  For the first time, I was introduced to what would become my peers in the field and established connections that last to this day.

I can think of no better focused and strategic investment in the future of Pennsylvania, and indeed the United States, than to re-establish the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences at the same level and intensity as the program I attended and to ensure the continued funding of similar schools in every state of the Union.

Danah Boyd (Class of 1995)

For me, this program was critical. Up until then, my science classes had been beyond basic. This was the first time that I felt challenged by science and math and I LOVED it. Going into college, I decided to study math because of my experience at PGSS. (I quickly switched to computer science upon entrance when I realized that CS involved more fun math.)

What I got from PGSS went beyond the curricular structure. I loved the opportunity to spend a summer with brilliant folks who liked to solve puzzles and THINK. I developed friendships that played a critical role in keeping me motivated my senior year. I spent many weekends traveling to Philly and other places to meet up with the folks that I met at PGSS. My homecoming and prom dates were both from PGSS. I traveled by rail across the USA with a PGSS person after high school. While I was getting crapped on by my classmates, PGSS folks were keeping me sane and strong. (And they were also part of the reason that I got more deeply involved in Internet culture.) Governor’s School also taught me to function on all-nighters and have fun while working in the lab.

More than anything, Governor’s School made visible what college could be like if I went to a school surrounded by smart people. (It was through one of the people at PGSS that I learned about Brown.) When people would ask me what PGSS was, I jokingly called it the “ticket to the Ivy League.” For those of us who didn’t come from boarding and prep schools, PGSS was often a free pass into institutions that might have otherwise ignored us and our public school background.

Paul Ricker (Class of 1985)

PGSS exposed me to advanced classes in special relativity, nuclear physics, discrete mathematics, artificial intelligence, organic chemistry, and molecular biology. It was the first time that I had been placed in such a challenging environment together with students like me from across the state.

My coursework, my interactions with peers and professors, and my research project ignited a real desire within me to seek more such challenges. It also opened my eyes for the first time to the fact that I could realistically consider a career as a scientist and that I could succeed at such a career.

Alycia Weinberger (Class of 1985)

That summer was the first time I met students as passionate and curious about science as I was. I left PGSS enthusiastic about learning more, loving physics, and eager to pursue a career in science.

Eric Britton (Class of 1986)

Before PGSS, I was in a clique of 2 in my High School. This was an imposed clique.... Furthermore, I did not connect with my fellow members of the Geek squad. School came very easy to me, all subjects, but I stood out the most in the science and math classes. I was isolated and alone. 

My summer at PGSS helped me to realise that I wasn't alone. That there are lots of people out there like me and that I had the potential to do whatever I chose to do. Before I went to PGSS, my horizons were very limited; I had no idea of the possibilities open to me. At PGSS, I found a peer group with whom I still feel a great kinship. It was also the first time in my life that I got to enjoy being intellectually average in my peer group; this did not happen again until I entered Medical School. A summer of just enjoying learning new things and having a go at discovering is a truly precious opportunity.

The fellowship and boost to my self esteem is what I gained the most from PGSS.

Michael Pirrello (Class of 1986)

PGSS impacted my life and career by providing me with true peers. It is impossible for me to overstate the value of those 5 weeks.

Benjamin Campbell (Class of 1997; TA 2000-3; Faculty 2005-8

I can think of no other event in my life that had more of an impact on my intellectual or social development than the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences. It was the first place I was exposed to likeminded intellectuals who shared my sense of discovery and achievement in academics. Seeing their shared drive and determination motivated me to work harder in life. PGSS is unlike any other educational experience. It is the most rigorous academic program I have endured.... PGSS pushes young students to their limits and beyond, forcing those who have never been challenged academically to learn how to ask for help and accept it. Teamwork isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity to survive the program.

My experience at PGSS as a student changed my life. I returned to high school with confidence and pride in who I was. The transition to college was easy the following year; PGSS taught me I was capable of far more than I had ever imagined. As soon as I was eligible, I applied to return as a TA/counselor to help create that experience for new generations of students. Compared to other potential summer jobs, PGSS requires long hours, and the pay is relatively low, but those who work there do it because they understand the value of the program. Working with those students each summer also gave me a renewed sense of drive and purpose for studying the sciences. Their enthusiasm was contagious and would recharged me for the upcoming academic year, packed with physics, math and engineering

After graduating college I was fortunate enough to be invited back to PGSS as faculty. The first year, the budget was uncertain and I agreed to teach without knowing if I would be compensated, because I believe in the program. I have taught college courses, but have never encountered students like those at PGSS; the kind of students that make you love teaching because they are so eager to learn. They keep me on my toes, asking tough questions and stimulating thought-provoking discussions. I have been with the program long enough to see those students go on to our best schools and enter our workforce as doctors, scientists and engineers. Their accomplishments are long and impressive, and without exposure to science at this critical point in their development, they might have
never have explored careers in these areas where U.S. talent is underrepresented. 

I know this program changed my life for the better, giving me lifelong friends and a passion for my career. Even more rewarding it has given me a sense of purpose, to make an impact fighting against the decline of America’s intellectual dominance in the sciences. People complain that America’s educational system is broken, but PGSS has a proven record of educational excellence.

Jeffrey Temple (Class of 1986; TA: 1993-4, 1996-8; Faculty: 1999)

My summers working at PGSS gave me my first taste of teaching science to high school students, and I went on to become a high school science teacher with Teach For America when I graduated college.... To say that I would not be where I am today without PGSS is a profound understatement. It is the single most exceptional and enriching program in science education that I've ever encountered, and I fervently hope it is given the opportunity to continue.

Hilary Justh (Class of 1992)

PGSS was a highlight of my high school career and I have many wonderful memories of my time spent at Carnegie Mellon University. To be surrounded by other students, faculty and counselors that all were as excited about science as I was a very unique experience for me. Through PGSS, I was able to participate in physics research, take classes that were above and beyond the level that was taught in my high school, and become friends with many like-minded students. PGSS gave me the first taste of what it would be like to pursue a degree in the sciences and provided the encouragement to continue to work through my senior year at Lock Haven High School, graduate, and attend the University Scholars Program at Penn State University.... I truly believe that the PGSS program was one of the many vital steps that I took as a high school and college student that led to the position that I have today.

Erin Childs (Class of 1993)

I'm from a small-ish town that provided very little support for budding scientists... especially not young women. I could take all of the book-learning classes at the high school, but ... there were zero opportunities for any hands-on learning. ... [PGSS] pushed me to really work in classes and to learn how to truly work with my peers on a project, instead of lead them through it. But, really, for me... PGSS was much more impactful on a social level. I had attended the John's Hopkins CTY program..., but had not been back due to money constraints. Having an opportunity to spend 5 weeks with other bright teens... was both enjoyable and humbling.

Joanna Zarach (Class of 1993)

PGSS was a pivotal experience of my life - it was the first time I was exposed to the broader disciplines of science beyond what my high school and local college could offer to me.... For the first time, I felt I was challenged to study topics that were not rudimentary and do it amongst people my own age who were also exceptional.... The Governor's School was the only program that was truly merit based and open to student of all socio-economic classes. This is now rare .... Being a first generation immigrant, such a program allowed me to experience the world beyond the small town I was living in at the time.... I credit my attendance at PGSS as one of the strong points in my [college] application.

Mark Murphy (Class of 1985)

PGSS quite literally saved my life — I was phenomenally depressed pre-PGSS, coming from a school district where academic achievement was not exactly welcome. I envisioned a meaningless life, with nobody to like or love, because I had the temerity to think and use words like “temerity”. At PGSS I found others who didn’t feel having or using a brain was the kiss of social death. While teenagers can be teenagers, the level intellectual playing field eliminated that as a bone of contention. I even fell in love for the first time.

Coming out of PGSS, I was far calmer about my life’s potential as I put up with my senior year at high school. The rest, as they say, is history. Disturbingly ancient history, at that…

George Matcuk (Class of 1993; TA 1996-9)

The Governor's Schools of Excellence are a small investment that pays dividends many times over, taking Pennsylvania's best and brightest students in a number of fields and giving them opportunities to network with other like-minded students throughout the state and develop their potential in a way like none other available. All while exposing these same students to the best institutions of higher learning the state has to offer.

I was a student at the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS) in 1993, returned as a counselor in 1996, 1997, 1998, and as the residence life coordinator in 1999. My experiences over those summers had a profound impact on guiding my educational career and shaping me as a person. Although I always had confidence in myself, I never felt a sense of belonging or a shared sense of passion for learning until I experienced PGSS as a student in 1993. The friendships I made there and excellent teaching and mentoring I received was a large factor in my decision to matriculate at Carnegie Mellon University in 1994.... My experience also solidified my interest in research and pursuing a career in medicine. ... My experiences at PGSS laid the foundation for my success. I can imagine few programs ... that could have such a large impact for a relatively modest cost. Many former graduates of these programs are now leaders in their respective fields. Their work builds a stronger, better Pennsylvania and spreads nationally the prestige of Pennsylvania's institutions of higher education. ... These skills and opportunities are needed now more than ever. There is no more sound investment you could make.

Todd Ellis (Class of 1996; TA 1999)

I could go on about many things that PGSS did for me. Professionally, I honed my ability to handle strenuous academic loads and extracurricular activities while at PGSS. I learned what it is to see a research project from concept to presentation - skills that serve me well as I start my own research program at a primarily undergraduate institution. The computing skills I learned from PGSS have continued to help me excel in every academic setting I've encountered. It is not an exaggeration to say that the formative experience of PGSS prepared me to hit the ground running in college and to distinguish myself from an early point in my career.

Personally, I learned how to interact with other exceptional students in a college like setting. I learned how to be assertive, how to contribute in a group, and most importantly what it means to be a leader in an academic setting. How to utilize others strengths, how to be decisive, when to step back and let others receive credit. The leadership award I received from PGSS in 1997 was just the start of the ways I was able to become a leader amongst my colleagues since PGSS. The skills I developed as a TA at PGSS in 1999 went even further to awaken my desire to be an educator as well as a researcher - a significant part of who I am now as a professor at a small public college. ... I cannot overstate the importance this experience has had in my life.

Joseph Vincent (Class of 2000)

Frankly, I'm not sure I'd have ever really applied myself to anything were it not for PGSS. For the social experience alone (i.e. to be among your own kind), the Governor's School is invaluable. Moreover, the rigor is great preparation for graduate school.

Mary Jue Xu (Class of 2006)

PGSS is the cornerstone to all the opportunities I have had in my life. During the five-weeks at PGSS, I was constantly challenged, immersed in a rich learning environment, and met life-long friends. It was the first time during my high school career that I was surrounded by people who were as excited to learn as I was. At Governor's School, we not only learned but were challenged to recognize and solve tangible problems, a critical skill I carried with me to MIT. 

I definitely could not have been accepted to MIT without my PGSS experience. It was a spring board that lead to study at MIT, an undergraduate research position, and another internship at NIH.

Following MIT, I am fortunate enough to be headed to Harvard Medical School. For me, medical school depended on MIT, which depended on PGSS. Only a month ago, I learned that in my program of 30 people, 2 of them are going to be fellow PGSSers! I also met a younger Governor's school alum in my undergraduate lab. It is amazing to meet PGSS alumni and instantly connect to them through our shared experience. 

In the end, the most valuable aspect of Governor's School is the people. PGSS opens the doors to a world of opportunities for its students. And the value to Pennsylvania and possibly the world is that when you gather motivated people who love learning, there is great potential for challenging problems to be solved, whether it is in cancer research or engineering more efficient cars. I still keep in contact and meet up with govies from my year. It will be interesting to see what kinds of collaborations we may have in the future. 

I can not thank PGSS enough. I truly hope that more Pennsylvania students will be allowed to appreciate how that one summer can shape the rest of their lives. I also hope people from Pennsylvania and beyond can continue to benefit from the work and dedication of PGSS students.

Jennifer Gandy (Class of 1996)

PGSS exposed me to a caliber of student, teacher and coursework that I did not and could not have experienced in my rural PA public school. It opened my eyes to a much bigger world, and showed me to aim high in my college application process.... I come from a single-parent family in rural Pennsylvania, where Harvard is not usually on anyone's radar. PGSS changed that for me.

Download more testimonials. [500K PDF]