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Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences

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Title: Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences  
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Subject: Barry Luokkala, Carnegie Mellon University, Education in Pennsylvania, Gifted education
Collection: Carnegie Mellon University, Education in Pennsylvania, Gifted Education, Governor's Schools
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Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences

The Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS) is one of the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence, a group of five-week summer programs for gifted high school students in the state of Pennsylvania. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has hosted the program since its inception in 1982. Most recently, it has been directed by Physics Professor Dr. Barry Luokkala. Participants are required to be Pennsylvania high school students between their junior and senior years and are required to live in the dormitories for the full five weeks of the program. Admission is very competitive - approximately 500 of the most scientifically gifted students in the state compete for 56 to 60 slots in the program. The aim of PGSS is to promote interest in science rather than to advance students' knowledge in a specific area. The curriculum includes five "core" courses in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics, and numerous electives. In addition to taking classes, students are required to participate in a lab course and a research-style team project. The emphasis is on cooperation, rather than competition - students are encouraged to both collaborate with other students on academic work and to interact socially. The Residence Life staff provides a number of structured social events to foster friendship and teamwork. There is at least one event per day and is advertised on the social calendar in the dorm lobby. For many students, the social development gained from the program rivals the scientific knowledge they acquire. The students leave the program with a strong bond; most attend an organized reunion the following year after the 4th week of the program.

PGSS was discontinued in 2009 by Governor [Ed Rendell]] who cut all funding for [Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence|PGSEs]] from the 2009-2010 budget.[1][2]

After the program closed, a group of PGSS alumni and parents worked on what was called the most important "team project": the restoration of PGSS. This included the following milestones: organizing PGSS Campaign, Inc. as a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, locating over 95% of the 2400 alumni, and many of their parents, collecting over $200,000 in donations from these individuals, meeting with Governor Thomas Corbett and former Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and Carolyn Dumaresq as well as a number of key legislative leaders in Pennsylvania, hiring a part-time Executive Director in Pittsburgh, gaining formal recognition as an Education Improvement Organization, making corporate donors eligible for Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, and securing numerous corporate grants.

After several years of work by PGSS Campaign, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Carnegie Mellon University a matching $150,000 grant to operate PGSS in 2013 and 2014. This provided half of the required funds for a 56-student program. To secure the funding from the state, the non-profit PGSS Campaign, Inc. had to agree to match those funds, and raised that and more to allow 60 students to attend each summer. PGSS was ultimately restored in 2013, and PGSS 2014 followed the next summer. Although Governor Corbett put a line item in the 2014 budget, the legislature took it out in the final version. TeamPA has agreed to provide the matching $150,000 grant to Carnegie Mellon for PGSS 2015, and PGSS Campaign continues to raise funds for the match. PGSS Campaign hopes to increase the number of students even more, closer to the earlier 90-student program.

PGSS Campaign, Inc. also functions as a PGSS alumni association. PGSS Campaign,Inc. has arranged successful reunions in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and started a mentoring program connecting recent alumni with alumni from previous years.

Applications are available for interested students at


  • Core Courses 1
  • Lab Courses 2
  • Electives 3
  • Team Projects 4
  • Homework 5
  • Location 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Core Courses

None of the teachers of the core courses are required to teach any one particular area or course. They are simply hired to teach a course in the general subject area. As a result, the core courses vary from year to year. However, it is typical for the Biology course to be in Discrete Mathematics and the Physics course typically covers concepts in Modern Physics, often focusing on Special Relativity. The Computer Science Course covers basic programming concepts and offers independent study for those with experience.[3] As it is not unusual for a student in the PGSS program to be unfamiliar with a topic, it is common for the students to help one another to stay abreast of the workload. The core courses typically run fifty minutes each four days a week, with four courses each day from Monday through Friday. Students may drop one core course after two weeks, provided that they are taking at least one elective and have completed outstanding homework assignments in that course.[3] The core professors often return for multiple summer. Dr. Mark Farrell of Point Park University usually teaches the chemistry course and is the only faculty to have been with the program since the beginning of the program. Dr. Richard Holman of Carnegie Mellon has been teaching the physics core since the early 90's. Dr. Ben Campbell was a student in the program in 1997 and has been a TA or faculty member every year but one since.

Lab Courses

A laboratory course is offered in every subject except Mathematics. Typically, one or more inter-disciplinary laboratory courses are added, such as Forensic Science. These usually meet twice a week for three hours. Depending on the subject area, it may be required that the laboratory course and the Team Project be in the same area.


This is perhaps the second most variant course topic in the PGSS program, with the most variant being the team projects. Electives typically run for an hour twice a week. Taking more than four electives in addition to all of the core courses is not permitted without special permission from the director. Usually, several electives, including Astrophysics, Laser Technology, the Science of Music, Material Science and several Mathematics electives are consistently offered every year, although content in these courses may change. The Math Electives are taught by longtime PGSS faculty, Juan Schaffer, who is often revered by students for his mathematical genius and resemblance to Einstein.

Team Projects

All PGSS students are required to participate in a team project. The areas generally match the areas of the core courses. These team projects, each culminating in a final scientific research paper, are presented during the last week of the PGSS program known as "Team Project Week." During Team Project Week, no classes are held, due to the immense demand on the participants' time from their research paper and presentations. The final papers are compiled for the PGSS Journal.[4]


Typically, PGSS students must complete and hand in an assignment once a week for every core course, and must also hand in any homework for electives. This usually works out such that one core course assignment is due every weekday. The PGSS program strives to emulate the modern scientific community by encouraging collaboration and cooperation among students as they complete their assignments. The homework problems are often designed to require copious amounts of time and effort if one attempts to solve them without teaming up, thus encouraging a cooperative atmosphere. In addition to this, students participating in this program are not ranked among their peers, thus removing any reason for isolation solely to stand out.


From the inception of the program until 2000 the PGSS program used the Hamerschlag House (also referred to as the 'Schlag) as the coed residence for the students with the boys confined to one wing, and the girls to the other. In 2001 the program was moved to Morewood E tower floors 4-7 (each sex having 2 floors) with the lounge in Morewood Underground. The program briefly moved back to Hamerschlag before going to Mudge House starting in 2007, with girls living in the main house and boys confined to one wing. The 2013 and 2014 programs were housed in Donner House, with boys in the southern wing and girls in the northern wing.


  1. ^ "Rendell previews budget plan". 
  2. ^ "DARE program targeted for cuts". 
  3. ^ a b PGSE Page
  4. ^ PGSS Journal

External links

  • PGSS Official Homepage
  • PGSE Page
  • PGSS Publications Page
  • PGSS Alumni Association
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