Sunday, June 16, 2024

LaPREP continues tradition with new graduating class 

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – Everything. That’s how keynote speaker Pastor Keswick Durden quantified what the LaPREP program meant to him at Thursday’s graduation in the LSUS Ballroom. 

Durden, a member of the program in its first year back in 1992, said he was a troubled teen with an unstable home life living in the most impoverished parts of Shreveport. 

But the seventh grader at Caddo Middle Magnet received a visitor, which usually meant bad news because Durden himself made frequent trips to the principal’s office. 

It was Dr. Carlos Spaht, an LSUS professor who was starting the LaPREP program, a free math and science summer enrichment program for middle school students. 

“It changed the trajectory of my entire life, and there wasn’t a single aspect of my life that it hasn’t touched,” said Durden, a senior pastor at the Greater New Zion Full Gospel Baptist Church. “The summers I spent on this campus – it feels like home to be back here. 

“I was severely struggling academically at the time, but it wasn’t because I lacked the intellectual capacity. I lacked an environment stable enough for me to learn outside the house. Dr. Spaht saw something in me that I hadn’t yet saw in myself, and he was the catalyst that forever changed the way I saw myself and the world around me.” 

Durden attended the program as a participant for three summers, graduating in the inaugural class of 1994. 

But he kept coming back, as a “P.A.A.” for the next three summers before becoming a full assistant from 1998-2000. 

“They came up with P.A.A. for me, and they called it the program assistant’s assistant,” Durden joked. “The summers as a participant were some of the most impactful of my life that I just kept coming back.  

“I couldn’t give up the environment surrounding this program.” 

Durden, who earned degrees from Bossier Parish Community College and LSUS, is one of the 620 program graduates who earned college degrees – 80 percent of which were in math and science. 

Twenty-eight more students started on that path Thursday as they finished the first summer of a two-summer program. 

LaPREP took a one-year hiatus after Spaht’s retirement in 2022, but new director Dr. Irina Ilioaea and her team successfully completed the first summer of their tenure and will expand the program back to a second year for its participants. 

“These kids were motivated and driven, and we can’t wait to have them back for their second summer as well as welcome in a new batch of first-year scholars,” Ilioaea said. “We have a great team here, and we’ll be ready to take on the workload of having first-year and second-year students back in the program. 

“(Dr. Spaht) has been incredible during this transition, and he told us to really put our hearts into this summer. Our entire team definitely did that.” 

The program offered classes in areas like logic, immunology, cybersecurity and leadership among other topics. 

“The immunology class was my favorite with Dr. Cannon,” said Kinzlee-Anne Koglin. “The leadership class with Mr. (Ecotry) Fuller changed the way I communicate with others. 

“This experience has changed me forever.” 

Outside of the intensive academic areas of study, professionals visited the students often to share insight into their daily experiences. 

Students traveled to places like SWEPCO and Sci-Port along with more recreational trips like skating. 

“I was fascinated learning about a lot of different fields,” said Aryan Ahuja. “I learned more here in seven weeks than I did in a whole year at school. 

“LaPREP to me is home – a place where we thrive.” 

Ahuja was one of our students to receive special recognition. 

He earned the third-place award for best student while second-place Shabd Warar and first-place Emmalie Taverner took the top honors. 

Alexandra Waltz won the “Spirit of LaPREP” award. 

Other graduates include Amelia Brodie, Kate Cox, Aryan Dodla, Jacob Gipson, Jonathan Grimble, Brian Han, Keyara Harris, JaNoah Hawthorne, Ethan Hill, Matthew Howard, Caleb James, Keiunna Jones, Anush Kohli, Surya Kolluru, Ruhan Kondala, Bryant Miles, Varun Mungur, Vidhi Mungur, Daniel Ogundeji, Danielle Ogundeji, Michael Okoh, Iyla Swift and Aiden Zhao. 

The graduation kicked off with remarks from new LSUS Chancellor Dr. Robert Smith, who was making his first official speech in his fourth day on the job. 

Smith said he had a similar experience in high school that pushed him to explore math and science as a career. 

“When I was just a little bit older than you, my father got me into a program at a local college to learn how to program a computer,” said Smith, a first-generation college student. “In those days, a computer would take up an entire room and had just a fraction of the power of this little (cell phone). 

“I credit that program with getting me interested in science and math, and I don’t know if outside of that program that I would have gone on to college and majored in math. I don’t know if I’d be standing here in front of you today.” 

Registration for LaPREP begins in the spring with the program running from mid-May into July. 

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