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CURIE Academy at Cornell - To Apply or Not Apply?

If you’re an ambitious high school student from an underrepresented community who wants to study STEM, especially engineering, you will have a lot of options. Some of the country’s top universities are implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs that are increasingly competitive and accept a limited number of students each year. Moreover, they can be expensive. If you’re committed to STEM and engineering and can afford the associated fees, then you should consider the CURIE Academy at Cornell University, a summer program that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.


Summer programs that are specifically geared towards promoting inclusivity are a great way to introduce yourself to college-level coursework and gain a deeper understanding of a subject.


What is the CURIE Academy all about?

Named after the famous physicist and chemist Marie Curie, the CURIE Academy is a week-long, residential summer program for students who want to pursue engineering in college and gain a deeper understanding of the discipline. The program is committed to making STEM more accessible to students from underrepresented communities, including Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Indigenous, female, neurodivergent, and/or living with a disability, those who do not have access to comprehensive STEM coursework in school, and first-generation STEM learners.


During the course of the program, the faculty and post-doc, graduate, and undergraduate students will mentor and guide you toward completing a research project that you present at the end of the program.


What can I study at the CURIE Academy?

As a CURIE Academy scholar, you will participate in nine field sessions conducted by Cornell Engineering faculty, where you will learn about the branches of engineering taught at Cornell, what the curriculum covers, and related research trends.


Field sessions can cover the following topics:

  • Applied and Engineering Physics

  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

  • Computer Science

  • Electrical and Computer Engineering

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • Materials Sciences and Engineering

  • Biomedical Engineering

  • Operations Research and Information Engineering

  • Engineering Experiences


Additionally, Cornell conducts a 10th field session “Engineering Admissions” that guides students on the admission process to the university’s engineering degrees.


Each day of the program also includes dedicated research sessions on these topics:

  • Plants’ native programs and networks

  • Synthetic biology of plant programs

  • Connecting the Internet of Living Things (IoLT)

  • Living and engineered networks in the field

  • Synthesizing visions of the IoLT and its applications


Note: the field and research sessions are based on previous years’ syllabus and could change for the 2024 cohort.


What does the day of a CURIE Academy scholar look like?

A typical day at the CURIE Academy includes two field sessions and a research session. You begin with breakfast followed by two one-hour field sessions and a lunch break. After lunch, you have to attend a four-hour research session. In the evenings, dinner is normally followed by a social and team-building activity.


Who is eligible to apply to the CURIE Academy?

The program is open to all students. While Cornell accepts applications from international and non-permanent resident students, they do not sponsor visas: you must be already residing in the U.S. or a U.S. territory.


In addition, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

  • Be a rising high school junior or senior

  • Must graduate high school in calculus, physics and/or chemistry, and one more advanced science and/or mathematics course


What is the application process like?

Applying to the CURIE Academy is done in three steps:

  1. Submit the Academy application form: Here, apart from entering relevant personal details, you also have to write your personal essay based on prompts that ask for information on your background and future plans. In 2022, Cornell asked the following questions:

  • How has your personal journey shaped your interest in STEM/Engineering?

  • What are your goals for the future with respect to STEM/Engineering, and how will participating in the Academy support you in achieving those goals?

  • Describe how your uniqueness will contribute to our diverse scholarly community. Some topics to consider: an experience, a special interest, a soft skill, a technical skill, your heritage, an obstacle you've overcome, etc.

  1. Submit your high school transcripts

  2. Your academic referee submits their recommendation form

  3. Financial assistance form (if applicable)


What does the program cost?

Program fees are $1,850, which includes stay, food, and any research supplies needed. Cornell offers financial aid based on demonstrated need.


What are the important dates?

Applications for the 2024 cohort open on December 1, 2023, and tentatively shut on March 1, 2024. The program dates are July 14 to July 20, 2024.


Is the program prestigious?

The CURIE Academy is moderately selective and prestigious. Cornell accepts up to 50 students every year and, based on previous years’ data, the acceptance rate is around 20%. You do not receive college credit for attending the program.


Pros and Cons of the CURIE Academy

Pros:

  1. You get to attend an immersive and intensive program Though only week-long, the CURIE Academy involves six hours of sessions every day, covering a broad range of engineering disciplines and keeping dedicated time for focused research.

  2. You get to complete a research project As part of the program, engineering faculty, staff, and research students guide you toward completing a research project by the end of the program, which would be a valuable addition to your college portfolio. The 2023 cohort designed and built a bioreactor to maintain the functioning of a chick’s heart, applying principles of fluid dynamics, thermal transfer, and other engineering concepts.

  3. You have a higher chance of being accepted if you belong to an underrepresented community in STEM Cornell is committed to equality and diversity in STEM. In previous years, the CURIE Academy was solely for high school girls before being opened to all. The program encourages applications from people who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Indigenous, female, neurodivergent and/or living with a disability, those who do not have access to comprehensive STEM coursework in school, and first-generation STEM learners.


Cons:

  1. You won’t be attending a very prestigious program If you’re a highly ambitious student, you might want to consider more prestigious programs. The CURIE Academy is moderately selective and prestigious. The admission process isn’t highly competitive (the acceptance rate is around 20%) and it only runs for a week, which could limit the amount you can learn compared to other longer summer programs.

  2. You have to pay to participate in the program The program fees ($1,850) could make it accessible to fewer students from underrepresented communities, who historically come from lower economic backgrounds.

  3. You don’t receive college credit College credits can be important, especially if you’re dedicated and hoping to maximize learning during your undergraduate degree, College credits let you skip certain courses, giving you more time to pursue other courses or interests.

  4. Your ability to attend the program is limited if you’re an international student The program is only open to international students already residing in the U.S. or a territory. Unfortunately, Cornell does not sponsor visas for the program.


What do we think of the program?

The CURIE Academy at Cornell University is a great summer program if you want to maximize your learning in a short amount of time. It runs for a week and is quite intensive — you are introduced to the different fields of engineering and complete a research project in a limited amount of time, which is no mean feat. We also like that they provide financial aid and encourage students from communities underrepresented in STEM to apply.


On the other hand, the program isn’t highly prestigious. If you’re an ambitious high school student looking to study STEM in the country’s top universities, you might want to consider applying for more selective programs that run for longer and offer college credit.



Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in STEM, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


Image Source: CURIE Academy logo

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