Seven CCHS students chosen for inaugural STEM program

A handful of Carbondale Community High School students have been selected for a STEM program designed to increase the number of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program is the SMASH Academy, a three-year, STEM-intensive residential college prep program that empowers students to deepen their talents and pursue STEM careers, according to its website. Each summer, the students will be immersed in tuition-free studies at leading universities throughout the country. During the academic year, scholars participate in monthly programming.

The program started at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004 and has since spread across the country. It was introduced into this area earlier this year.

The CCHS scholars chosen for this first class are Caleb Bondzi, DeShaun Daniels, Kenshon Ducksworth, Amarion Durham, Phillip Johnson, Ricky Madison and Jayla Ware. They will join about 33 other students from Chicago and the East St. Louis areas for five weeks of study at the private Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

The CCHS students are scheduled to depart for the program in early July and return right before CCHS starts in August.

CCHS principal Ryan Thomas called the program a "big undertaking" and possibly a "life-changing opportunity" for the seven students.

"The biggest thing that comes out of this is that the kids that finish the program ... over 85 percent of them then go on to college, and they graduate with a STEM degree," Thomas said. "That's huge.