UCI News

Students’ guide to the COSMOS

Program director nurtures future scientists with creative touch

by Christine Byrd | July 20, 2005

On any given day this summer, Marjorie DeMartino may sit in on a class of “The Science of Energy and Pollution,” lunch with students at the Pippin Dining Hall, field calls from parents, and walk community members through labs filled with students at work.

DeMartino, who just celebrated her 15th year of campus service, is director of UCI COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science). Summer, of course, is her busiest time of year, as dozens of high school students from across the state come to campus for the four-week residential science and math program.

“The average day brings a wonderful mix of interactions with people in education,” DeMartino says. In addition to working with the faculty members who offer curriculum for the program, she selects local high school teachers as “teaching fellows” to work with the faculty and students, and chooses about 25 undergraduate resident assistants to serve as advisers and role models for the students.

“There is a beautiful, symbiotic relationship between the students and faculty who participate in COSMOS, as they help recharge one another,” DeMartino says. COSMOS targets students at a crucial time – just as they begin thinking about future careers. DeMartino believes the university plays an important role in fostering the development of prospective scientists, engineers and mathematicians. “Peer pressure in high school makes a lot of students not want to stand out in science or math, and we have to change that.”

Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, DeMartino says growing up surrounded by nature – from glaciers to wildflowers – gave her a lasting fascination with the life sciences. But it was creative writing that drew DeMartino to UCI, where she received her M.F.A. in poetry in 1991.

When Center for Educational Partnerships director Juan Lara asked DeMartino to implement COSMOS at UCI 1999, he already knew how her writing skills helped advance academic preparation programs. Beginning in 1990, she was involved with the California Alliance for Minority Participation, creating a newsletter that communicated the program to a broad audience. Today, CAMP has expanded to eight campuses, and DeMartino is the program’s statewide director, in addition to leading UCI’s COSMOS.

“Having worked closely with Marjorie for 15 years, I know she helped make CAMP what it is through the CAMP Quarterly, a national publication that had no equal,” Lara says. “She shapes the face of UCI for students through her gift of poetic expression.”

DeMartino received a 2005 Lauds & Laurels award for staff achievement, celebrating her commitment to the programs. But, she says, the true reward comes from the students themselves. “I know my work is important when students come to me and say participating in COSMOS was the best decision they ever made.”