A thirst for knowledge


Photo Credit: Nathan Schlecht

Stephen Petraitis poses after finishing his second to last semester at Columbia University Science Honors Program.

by Nathan Schlecht, Staff Writer

Stephen Petraitis has always had thirst for knowledge. He currently goes to Leonia High School and was a freshman when his father first introduced the Science Honors Program for highschool students at Columbia University.

Stephen’s father’s co-worker was responsible for first informing his family about their program knowing Stephen’s interest and success in high school science classes. Eventually, Petraitis’s high school chemistry teacher mentioned the program to him.

Stephen was interested in the program but did not apply until Sophomore year.

The application process is similar to applying to college requiring a letter of recommendation from a science or math teacher, an essay on why you want to attend, and a high school transcript. All students applying have to take a mandatory test. The test evaluates math and science skills in a broad range from meteorology to physics.

“I was 15 and I didn’t know physics yet at that point, like I knew only maybe a few equations and I didn’t know we had meteorology,” Petraitis said.

The younger the applicant is, the less expectations the test graders have. The classes that the applicant has already taken are put into consideration when graded.

Petraitis got into the program fall of junior year and attended the quantum mechanics and relativity program for the first semester.

“I’ve always been interested in physics and so on my application I kind of said like I really want to do it cause of physics so like the first class I took was quantum mechanics relativity and it was very like difficult like they went through like pretty fast and they like assumed that you knew calculus beforehand which like I kind of knew.”

The classes are taught by graduate students that attend Columbia. Petraitis’s class was taught by a student who is a few years into his PHD in statistics.

“I think they’re very good at teaching,” Petraitis said. Petraitis figured it would be great exposure for the Columbia students to teach in a strenuous teaching environment if they wanted to become a professor later on.

The classes are on saturday mornings from 10 to 12:30 and are mostly composed of 10th, 11th and 12th graders. There are no tests all the learning you do happening in class. “They expect everyone who goes there motivated to learn.” Stephen said. The classes are like typical college classrooms, Stephen has been in a lecture hall and a computer lab for the majority of his classes.

With the program coming to ahead as stephen comes closer to graduation he looks forward. He is already looking for other classes to take  in the future. Him and his friend Jack Kellerk looked at Bergen community college but they could not find the courses they were seeking. “I was looking there until I realized pretty much the only classes they’re teaching are reviews of algebra and like simple science high school science.” Jack Kellerk said. To apply you need to fill out a sheet of paper and hand it in. So the the application process is less than what Columbia had.

Kellerk and Petraitis continued their search and found Passaic community college. “Unfortunately we couldn’t go there cause it’s right in the worst city worst part of the city otherwise it was perfect.” Kellerk said.

“To get ahead” Kellerk said when I asked him why he want to take these level classes.

At Stevens institute of Technology Kellerk does cancer research with a professor there. He was interested in doing research and googled “research opportunities.” Stevens institute came up and he sent 4 emails out to the institute. The professor at Stevens sent Jack an email back telling him to come in. Kellerk drove to the institute and did research with a professor and college students.

“I pretty much like  felt like I was actually  in the college like I was getting like the benefits of being in the college without actually being to pay for it because she was giving like a mini lesson.” Kellerk Said.

Stephen is applying to Columbia in the fall and Jack is applying to Stevens. They both hope this helps with college applications but they both genuinely enjoy learning. Kellerk enjoys chemistry and wanted to go in depth about the subject. Stephen also had an interests in the physics and other subjects so he chose classes because his interests.