Online SSP

Musicially talented SSP ’20 participants created this amazing musical collage from their homes around the world.


After 61 years as a residential program, re-designing SSP as an online experience on short notice was challenging. Our faculty and staff stepped up to the challenge.  We were determined to offer this year’s cohort of bright young scientists the most authentic research experience possible – despite the pandemic.

Planning began in March with the establishment of the Principle of Continuity – keep what we can, change what we must. Specifically, we retained SSP’s core values of trust and respect, collaboration and connection, rigor and challenge, inclusivity and support.

We also maintained the four “campus assignments,” two doing research in Astrophysics and and two in Biochemistry, each with the usual 36 participants, 4-5 Teaching Assistant and Residential Mentors, an Academic Director, Associate Academic Director, and Site Director.

We used the “flipped classroom” model, with live and asynchronous components. Professors dividing the topics and recorded lectures to be watched daily in advance of 4-hour “Learning Block” sessions each weekday for discussion and collaboration, like recitations in a college course. Later each weekday, two 4-hour “WorkPlay Blocks” per campus included 18 participants and 2-3 faculty. These were analogous to informal evenings in the computer lab, with some participants working on problem sets, some on the research, some playing games, some watching videos.

With participants in 14 time zones around the world, scheduling those sessions was not easy! Some people needed to get up early, and others stay up late, but everyone adapted.


Dr. Adam Rengstorf, Academic Director for SSP in Astrophysics, gives a heartfelt message to participants on the last day of the online program.

The four Site Directors facilitated social interactions and as many SSP traditions as practical – the guest lecture series, questions of the day, and talent show. TAs combined tutoring and mentoring roles as always. Guest lectures were livestreamed to SSP’s YouTube channel, and recorded for later viewing by members.

Over six weeks, faculty members worked tirelessly to make SSP ’20 another “education experience of a lifetime.” They succeeded. Participant exit surveys were filled with effusive praise – just as for past in-person programs. For example:

On July 25th, our worldwide network of 2,500 alumni and friends welcomed the 144 outstanding young people of SSP ’20 as lifetime members of this unique nonprofit!