Alumni and students from the 2013 Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences gather for a group photo. (Photo courtesy of PGSS Alumni Association)
Alumni and students from the 2013 Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences gather for a group photo. (Photo courtesy of PGSS Alumni Association)

Alumni of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS) speak highly of the program, saying it helped transform their lives.

In the case of one student, PGSS helped save his.

“Based on a miserable high school experience, I was seriously contemplating suicide, as I anticipated a lifetime of people detesting me due to my intelligence. PGSS demonstrated that, indeed, there were others like me, and that we could have normal lives. That gave me the strength to get through my senior year of high school and get through college, which put me on the path towards professional success. It is not too preposterous to say that PGSS, and the people I met there, saved my life.”

It’s easy to see why alumni worked to restore the program after it had been closed in 2009. PGSS is an intense, five-week, live-in summer program for Pennsylvania’s academically talented 11th grade students.

Held at Carnegie Mellon University, PGSS fosters global competitiveness in science, computers, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through academic excellence and creativity, college and career exploration, collaboration, communication and support by professionals working in STEM-related careers.

PGSS’s triumphant return in 2013 was made possible by the alumni association, who worked in cooperation with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and numerous corporate sponsors, including AT&T, a Team Pennsylvania Foundation investor.

“The program was so important to so many people and everyone wanted to see that it was available to high school students,” says Janet Hurwitz, Secretary, PGSS Campaign. “The thought that it would no longer be available in the future was a horrific thought.”

Hurwitz, whose son Jeremy is a 2003 PGSS graduate, said the hardest part in raising awareness and funds for the campaign was tracking down the nearly 2,400 graduates, many of whom had attended the governor’s school before the advent of email.

As Hurwitz worked to hunt down former students, the group of volunteers moved to form a board, created a non-profit association, had its by-laws and articles of incorporation written, hired an executive director, and seeded the new organization with a total of $160,000.

“We have found some of the nicest graduates who have been willing to give of their time and talents, which has been quite amazing,” said Hurwitz. “We have received pro bono work and another lawyer wrote the by-laws and articles of incorporation while she was on maternity leave.”

In 2011, the campaign applied for a grant from the state, but it would take two years for public funding to be available – and only on the condition that the private sector would match the grant.

“When we got the call from the Secretary of Education that the governor was giving Carnegie Mellon a $150,000 grant if PGSS was able to match it, we were speechless,” Hurwitz said. “The response from the alumni has been amazing and everyone is thrilled that students were going to get the same opportunity.”

2013 marked the triumphant return of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences.
2013 marked the triumphant return of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences.

PGSS is one of eight programs under the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Excellence, an initiative that was first launched for gifted students in 1973 with the Governor’s School for the Arts. PGSS was started in 1982 by the Thornburgh administration.

PGSS Executive Director Maureen Ryan said the campaign initially raised enough money to send 50 students to the school, but a fundraiser conducted in March provided funding for an additional 10 to attend – 40 less than the high-water mark of 100 during the program’s heyday.

Ryan added that PGSS intends to send 75 students to the program next year.

“It is our intent to follow through with our funding model for our non-profit to partner with the private sector and hopefully we’ll receive support from the state to continue next year,” Ryan said. “We hope the state sees the value of what the students are doing because we will need participation from all three funding groups.”

Ryan noted PGSS is willing to lend its assistance to other groups within the private sector that are interested in reviving one of the other seven governor’s schools.

More information on the science school alumni campaign can be found on their website at pgsscampaign.org.

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