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UCSD, Compton High Come Together For Summer Science Program

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Aired 7/22/10

It has been five months since UC San Diego was rocked by a series of racially charged incidents stemming from the so-called "Compton Cookout" party. The university has been trying to repair its image since then. They're hoping a few Compton teenagers may help the school.

— It has been five months since UC San Diego was rocked by a series of racially charged incidents stemming from the so-called "Compton Cookout" party. UCSD students organized the party where guests were told to come as "ghetto chicks" and gangsters. The university has been trying to repair its image since then. They're hoping a few Compton teenagers may help the school.

Crowds of parents pointed out colorful fish for their kids to see on a Wednesday afternoon at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.

Roughly 30 Compton High School students are taking part in a three week summer program through UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
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Above: Roughly 30 Compton High School students are taking part in a three week summer program through UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

However, the real show was taking place behind the giant water tanks. That's where a group of Compton High School students got a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility.

The Compton teenagers are taking part in a unique summer program hosted by UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

For three weeks the students work with researchers and live on campus like college students. Anthony Pitman is one of 20 Compton teenagers taking part in the program.

“I think this is one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life,” Pitman said.

Pitman and his classmates sent the university a letter earlier this year saying they were mad about the "Compton Cookout" scandal. A few weeks later, university officials visited their high school. Pitman says that's when talk about a special summer program began.

“We just wanted to get the voice of the unheard out to the public,” Pitman said. “There are (students) who could be future engineers, photographers and oceanographers. People who could really make a difference.”

That struck a chord with Dr. Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Haymet visited Compton High more than once after UCSD's scandal. He says students told him they wanted get out the classroom and meet with scientists.

He says Scripps and the Birch Aquarium were a perfect fit.

However, Haymet says it was a challenge trying to convince some Compton students this wasn't just a PR move. He says others considered UCSD to be a racist university.

“Some of them never wanted to come to UCSD,” Haymet said. “It was really important for the students (to come to UCSD) and let them judge our community for themselves.”

The three-week program teaches students about everything from the evolution of a planet to marine biology.

Students also have the rare opportunity to spend a day at sea on a science research vessel where they conducted experiments.

Compton high school teacher Kimberly Ponce says some of her students had never stepped foot on a boat before.

“Less than half our students have actually been out to sea,” Ponce said. “It was such an amazing experience because a lot of our students are taking these science-based classes because they are interested in the sciences.”

But Ponce says her school has never had the money or the private support to pay for these types of field trips or specialized instruction.

That might change now that UCSD is committed to developing a new academic partnership with Compton.

High school senior Tanya Contreras says she was skeptical about the whole project given UCSD's recent past. But now she's happy she came. She's even thinking abut applying to UCSD.

“If I decide not to apply to UCSD, there won’t be any Hispanics or people from Compton (represented on campus),” Contreras said.

UCSD officials say they're committed to keeping a Compton-UCSD summer program going. They're currently trying to secure funding for the next four summers.

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