A Lacey high school student received an award packet and certificate of selection from the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists last month. At first glance it appeared to be an impressive accolade, but her father, Kevin Bell, decided to take a closer look.
“Who is this person sending my 15-year-old daughter mail?” said Bell who opened the packet addressed to his daughter. “I initially thought, ‘Wow, this is something really good. My daughter receives great grades, is near the top of her class and this might be something that could help her as we start researching which colleges she may want to attend.’”
But what must students who receive these packets do to actually receive the award? Simply participate as a delegate in The Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders: a three-day conference in Boston that will cost parents between $975 and $1,600.
The price is what set Bell off. After reading through the “very slickly produced package” and further research, Bell concluded, “It’s really just a very expensive field trip to Boston.”
After further digging into the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists, Bell found he wasn’t the first person to take issue with the organization or the award packets his daughter and other high school students are receiving.
LA Times columnist David Lazarus first wrote about the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists more than two years ago when his son received a packet from the organization in the mail.
The award letter stated that Lazarus’s son "was selected for the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists Award of Excellence for outstanding academic achievement, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of science and technology."
The award letter boasted guest speakers such as former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and said “attendance at the Congress can enrich a delegate’s academic profile by adding and deepening their extracurricular experiences and achievements when they apply to colleges and universities.”
Genevieve Canceko Chan, vice president of marketing and communication at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, urges families to avoid being star-struck by such invitations. “Even though they have a lot of names idly attached to the conference, students and parents should ask if it’s worth it.”
But the cost is not the only aspect to be considered.
“The problem is that they are sending packets directly to the students and suggesting they have been selected for an award,” Bell said. “The academy is definitely trying to get the student excited about it and it puts pressure on the parents to send their child on the trip. They are very careful to make no promises.”
While the academy is not a scam — the congress is an actual event that students participate in — Pamela Holsinger Fuchs, dean of enrollment at Saint Martin’s, advises parents and students to be cautious with this sort of program.
“I think the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists is marketing in a very unique way to capture attention,” Holsinger Fuchs said. “ The thing that’s interesting is their choice of words. Serving as a ‘delegate’ in a ‘congress’ elevates it to sound prestigious.”
When contacted by The Olympian, Holsinger Fuchs had never heard of the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists before, which could be a red flag in and of itself. Her brief research into the organization revealed that they do a lot of campaigns like the one Bell questioned.
Participation in such a program probably would have little weight in a college’s decision whether or not to admit a student.
“We would offer much more weight in a student that has been involved in an ongoing leadership role in a club or organization — a year or two — with a group with more nationwide legitimacy such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) or National Honors Society (NHS),” Holsinger Fuchs said. “We look at the leadership role students have taken within groups they participate in, and that would be far more meaningful than going to a three-day conference.”
Saint Martin’s and many other universities also work with Turning the Tide, a program designed by Harvard University to level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students. Holsinger Fuchs encourages families to look into the resources Turning the Tide provides as an alternative to an expensive conference.
“(Mr. Bell) did a really good thing by opening that letter and sharing his concern,” Holsinger Fuchs said.
For parents such as Bell, navigating what mailed content is legitimate and what is not is becoming harder and harder as his daughter gets older.
Holsinger Fuchs said, “The most important thing is doing well academically. The highest predictor of admission is a student’s high school GPA and standardized test scores.”
The best advice she can offer high school students and their families is to consult their high school counselors and ask about well-regarded opportunities and scholarship offerings.