ALMA — Students at Donald L. Pavlik Middle School are getting an early taste of what college life is like thanks to a new program funded through the Alma College Center for College and Community Engagement (3CE).

The Alma Enrichment Partnership Program: Science, an eight-week long experience featuring 17 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, launched last month at Alma College. At the inaugural sessions, students participated in basic science experiments with specialized physiologic equipment, which they would not likely have had the opportunity to do in their normal classrooms.

“The idea is that these high-achieving science students would benefit from utilizing the expertise and resources that we have available right down the road at Alma College,” said Brian Hancock, an assistant professor of teacher education at Alma College and head organizer of the Partnership Program. “These students benefit from getting familiar with a college setting very early on in their development, while their classmates benefit from getting even more individualized attention from their instructors back at school. From an education standpoint, it’s a wonderful opportunity for these students.”

Every Wednesday until mid-November, students will visit Alma College for 90 minutes of class time, learning from real college faculty, before returning back to school. Topics will vary by week, but always include hands-on work: for example, a physics professor is scheduled to teach the young students how to build and use a telescope, and a biology instructor will teach them how to count the heart rates of small organisms using a microscope.

On Sept. 28, Alexander Montoye, an associate professor of clinical exercise physiology, taught the first session, which was centered around cardiovascular health and made use of specialized equipment to measure blood pressure and heart rate. Montoye said the students were engaged, interested and willing to try new things.

“I grew up in Mount Pleasant, and when I was in seventh grade, I participated in a similar program to this, through Central Michigan University. That was actually my first opportunity to speak in public, and it helped get me interested in human physiology,” Montoye said. “To be able to pay it forward like this, and give young students access to tools they may have never seen before, is such a pleasure for me.”

The program is currently pilot-funded through the 3CE, Hancock said, but could continue and be expanded in the future to include not only science but also humanities topics, depending on the interests and needs of our partner schools.

Stacey Criner, superintendent of Alma Public Schools, said she would be very receptive to that idea, based on the extremely positive response to the pilot program thus far.

“I don’t think we could ask for a better resource to be optimized and utilized than this, which is right in our students’ backyards,” Criner said. “I am very grateful for our partnership with Alma College and hope to see it continue. It’s in line with where we need to be.”