SHREVEPORT – As new LaPREP director Dr. Irina Ilioaea gears up for her first summer, the professed math nerd can relate to her LaPREP students.
LaPREP, a free math and science summer enrichment program for middle school students at LSUS, will take place this summer after a one-year hiatus with the retirement of founder and longtime director Dr. Carlos Spaht in 2022.
Ilioaea, a Romanian native who came to the United States eight years ago to pursue her doctorate in math, was passionate about competing in national mathematical olympiads in high school.
“I can see myself in these kids,” said Ilioaea, who accepted an assistant professor position in the LSUS math department in 2020. “(Dr. Spaht) thought I’d be a good fit here, and I’m enthusiastic about being in this position.
“A lot of LaPREP graduates go on to pursue college degrees in engineering, math, science or the medical field, so I’m excited to meet our new students.”
More than 30 middle school students will participate in the seven-week program, which includes in-depth classes in logic, probability and statistics, cyber security and technical writing among other topics. The program begins May 30.
Students participate in classes Monday through Thursday with Friday being reserved for field trips, recreation and guest speakers.
The classes involve exams, projects and the chance to work with area high school teachers and LSUS students.
Ilioaea will teach the logic class.
“These kids will get to see many things,” Ilioaea said. “For example, we have somebody coming in to play chess with them one day and people from the medical field scheduled for another day.
“The logic class will have the same material we teach the undergraduate students, and sometimes these middle school students perform better in these classes because they are so interested and engaged.”
LaPREP targets students who may be first-generation college participants or other underrepresented groups in the math and science field.
Students don’t pay out of pocket to attend the program because of generous sponsors and grant funding. All meals and transportation are provided.
Dr. Spaht started the LaPREP program in 1992 and remains an advisor to the organization.
Students who participate in the first year of LaPREP are eligible to return for a second year, which expands on the foundation built in Year 1. This summer won’t have a Year 2 cohort because of the one-year hiatus in 2022.
While Ilioaea is getting her bearings as the new director, LaPREP leans on an experienced and dedicated bunch of teachers.
“There’s a sense of community in the program in that the same people are willing to come back and teach year after year,” Ilioaea said.
LaPREP is part of a summer camp pipeline that starts with GetSet (fourth-grade students) and ends with LaPIXEL Academy (9th-11th grade students). LaPIXEL is a visual arts camp where students design their own video game while learning visual art skills that are sought after in fields like advertising and cyber security.