Published on 08/07/02

High School Students Conduct Research at UGA

By Merritt Melancon
University of Georgia

For six weeks this summer, 23 high school students in Athens, Ga., and 18 in Griffin, Ga., researched everything from termites to aflatoxin to stem cells in University of Georgia labs.

The students are part of the University of Georgia's Young Scholars Program. Many children dream of being astronauts or doctors but become alienated from math and science as they go through school.

Since 1989, the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has used its Young Scholars Program to show kids the connections between science and their daily lives and career choices.

Six-week apprenticeships

The six-week, research-based program pairs high school students with scientists on the CAES Athens and Griffin campuses. The scientists develop research projects for the students to complete in the six weeks.

Don McLellan, CAES director of diversity relations, said the goal of the program is to give young scholars career and education options they might not have come across before.

The program was designed to recruit minority and under-represented students to the CAES. But any promising students can participate.

"We're just trying to put UGA and the college on their radar screens," McLellan said. "A lot of these kids have never thought of coming to UGA, much less going into a career in agriculture or the sciences.

A way of mentoring

It's a way of mentoring, he said. It lets them get to know the scientists and what they do. They learn, too, what degrees they need to do what they do. And they learn how to start preparing to get to a university.

The work they're doing is real research, McLellan said. The mentors value the help they get, and the students value the research experience and the math and lab skills they pick.

Pat Clifton oversees the YSP. The keys to its success, she says, are the relationships between the mentors and their students.

"The mentors are really the heart of the program," Clifton said. "The university is fortunate to have research scientists who give their time to mentoring promising high school students." Marilyn Johnson coordinates the program at the Griffin campus. She says it not only opens students' eyes to new career paths, but also helps broaden their world views.

International travel

This year, selected students traveled to Africa and Central America.

"We have such a narrow box we live in here in the United States," Johnson said. "When you spend time in Ghana and Costa Rica, it's easy to see how what you do back home affects the bigger picture. It helps you see the impact your research could have and hopefully helps the kids find out what they were put on earth to do."

In the future, McLellan would like to double the number of students and mentors on the Athens and Griffin campuses and extend the program to the UGA campus in Tifton. Eventually, he wants to see a residential component, so students from all over the state can take part.

"We need to push the limits of this program and reach out to communities all over the state," he said. "We can't afford to leave anyone on the sidelines if we want to find ways to grow our food and protect the environment in the future."

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension before joining Terry College.