SHAPE Summer Program Brings High School Students to Campus

This three-week summer program offers students research experience, professional development, and an opportunity to take on global challenges.

Nov 14 2022 | By Alisa Kaff

Get a taste of college-level engineering

Applications for summer 2023 open December 15.

SHAPE students outside Mudd

SHAPE students outside Mudd

"I feel like I am already fulfilling my dream," says Briant DeJesus, a student at MS/HS 223 who participated in Columbia Engineering’s Summer High School Academic Program for Engineers (SHAPE) this summer. He says SHAPE helped him understand what it will mean to build on projects from his science and engineering classes once he gets to college.

"I've always dreamed of going to Columbia," DeJesus says. "During the program, we basically took lectures and got the whole college experience. We learned how to take notes effectively, so we were treated exactly like college students, not just SHAPE students."

Exposure to a Variety of Engineering Experiences

SHAPE is a selective program that takes place on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus. For three weeks, rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors take college-level engineering courses taught by Columbia Engineering faculty and participate in workshops and electives that cover important professional development skills.

"The goal is to offer students a better understanding of what engineers do and give them exposure to these fields. Engineering is not just one department, there are over 12 different fields," clarifies Kristian Breton, director of Outreach Programs at Columbia Engineering. "Broadening that exposure to opportunities within is the very baseline. Beyond that, we want to have an impact, we want our faculty and students to be part of the community."

Project-Based Learning to Solve Pressing Problems

A SHAPE student holding up a robot prototype.

Sopho with robot prototype

Sopho Kevlishvili, a Columbia Engineering undergraduate who studies biomedical engineering, participated in the program as a teaching assistant and a Summer Student Leader (SSL). She agrees that SHAPE helps prepare pre-college students for their future. 

"A very important skill that you need to learn in college is that you do a lot of learning yourself. It's not like someone is giving you all the materials and explaining everything. You need to do a lot of independent work. And I think [SHAPE participants] understand that at the end of the program," she says.

SHAPE offers students a versatile experience that includes traditional lecture-based courses alongside hands-on lab work. The program also emphasizes tackling real-world global problems–most notably, climate change. 

"[For our] creative project, we had to create an engineering solution that will work towards decreasing the carbon emissions in the air. I was extremely passionate about that project," says DeJesus. "Our group project was about using bacterial DNA to store data. It would mean that we would not have to rely on data centers which release a lot of carbon emission into the air.”

Robert Farrauto, professor of professional practice in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, was excited to discover that many of the SHAPE students he taught during the summer 2022 session were already passionate about environmental studies. "Students were very, very interested in this topic of mitigating climate change,” says Professor Farrauto. 

"Obviously, climate change is something that they know will be their future, and fortunately, the students were very much engaged in STEM subjects and technology. I strongly believe that we need to educate our high school students to realize the importance of climate change. They should play a role in this because this is going to be a worldwide problem. It's already a worldwide problem. So I think getting them enthusiastic is important," he adds.

Becoming an Engineer at Columbia

SHAPE gives students a more realistic picture of what it means to be an engineer, and its professional development components help students develop the skills they need to get there.

"There is more to being an engineer [than just studying]. It's not just about having good grades in school," says Shmuel Woznica, another SHAPE student. "One of the main reasons that I enjoyed this program is because it wasn't just cut-and-dry engineering. I appreciated the fact that we had other lectures about the difference between a resume and a CV for example. I appreciated that I was getting to experience other aspects of what it means to be a Columbia Engineering student." 

DeJesus agrees, "I always thought college is just 'work, work, work,' but this program taught me that it wasn't about that, but about finding yourself. It's about communication, creating this community, just like a family."

SHAPE is a unique opportunity for high-school students to step through the gates of Columbia University and experience being a college student firsthand at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Students get to learn from world-renowned professors, as well as from upper-class college students. 

Shaping the Future

A student presents their project to the SHAPE summer program fellows

SHAPE presentation

Kevlishvili was in the high schoolers' shoes not so long ago. "They are going through what we went through during the college admission process. It was really nice to be able to make this process a little easier for them, because we have all been through that," Kevlishvili says. "It was also nice to see how much I have personally grown, because four, maybe five years ago, I was in their shoes." 

The program also offers students a look into the options awaiting them in college. "I didn't have that much experience in different aspects of engineering, like mechanical engineering, electrical or biomedical, before coming to college,” Kevlishvili says. “I think it's very important because then you make a lot more informed choices about what you want to study, or what kind of research you want to do. So in that sense, I think it was pretty rewarding for the students to go to SHAPE.” 

Interested in the SHAPE program?

Apply here.

Applications for summer 2023 open December 15.


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