posted July 11, 2006

Program Involves High School Students in Research

A new summer program at Hope College involves area minority high school students as co-investigators in research projects through the college's nationally acclaimed science program.

The "REACH" (Research Experiences Across Cultures at Hope) program has given six local high school students the opportunity to spend five weeks conducting research with members of the science faculty at Hope. The participants are all rising juniors or seniors from Holland High School or West Ottawa High School who are members of groups under-represented in science, and were chosen on the basis of nominations from their teachers as well as academic achievements.

"There has been a great deal of literature about the potential shortage of scientists in training in this country while at the same time the need for an increased number of people with scientific training has been growing," said Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural sciences at Hope. "We're hoping to help address that national need by acting locally to help inspire younger students in their interest in science, while at the same time also helping to remedy the under-representation of certain groups in the sciences in the U.S."

The six REACH students and five other area high school students have joined more than 170 undergraduates involved in research projects in the sciences at Hope this summer. As is also true for the undergraduates, the program complements classroom lessons by involving the students in science-in-action, where the answers aren't known but need to be found. Ultimately, the students will get a chance to contribute new knowledge to science.

"We're trying to encourage them to consider a career in science and expose them to a type of science they're not familiar with in their high school classes," said Tracey Arndt of the Hope staff, who is the program director.

In addition to participating in research 40 hours per week from June 19 to July 21 - and earning a $1,000 stipend in the process--the students engage in all of the activities involving college students participating in research in the summer, including not only departmental and divisional presentations but also social events like a weekly picnic at Tunnel Park. The high school students also participate in weekly seminars just for them that provide insights into other areas of science and topics like applying to college and financial aid.

"We're trying to prepare them for their next year when they're getting ready for college as well as inform them about different science careers that they could go into," Arndt said.

The program has earned high marks from the students. Paola Munoz, a senior at West Ottawa High School, saw REACH as a way to test her sense that she might enjoy a science career, and has found her initial thinking confirmed. "I want to go into the health sciences," she said. "I'm determined to become a doctor."

She is working with biologist Dr. Leah Chase, exploring cell behavior as it relates to degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, work that she notes is beyond what she'd be able to do in school. "I enjoy learning new things, and how to grow new cells and stain them is something I would probably never do in high school," she said.

Joe Martinez, also a senior at West Ottawa, has been working in Lee's chemistry lab, synthesizing molecules for anticancer drug discovery. "I thought that this would be a good opportunity to broaden my knowledge," he said.

Would he recommend REACH to others? "I'd definitely say that they should do it," he said.

REACH is also open to two area science teachers, with the goal being to involve them in research projects they can incorporate into their curriculum in the classroom. Each teacher receives a $2,000 stipend and one graduate credit.

Hope has earned national recognition in a variety of ways for its emphasis on student-faculty research as a teaching tool. Consistently, the college has held more grants in support of summer student research through the National Science Foundation's "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" program than any other liberal arts college in the country. For the past four years, since the category debuted, the "America's Best Colleges" guide published by "U.S. News and World Report" has included Hope on its listing of institutions that are exceptional for their emphasis on undergraduate research and creative projects. In 1998, Hope was one of only 10 liberal arts institutions nationally recognized for innovation and excellence in science instruction by the NSF with an "Award for the Integration of Research and Education" (AIRE).