A Matter of Science
Summer program gives economically disadvantaged high school students a taste of real world science in a college setting
Dr. Teresa Petrino-Lin, associate professor of biology, works with local high school students as part of the Summer Science Research Program.
While most high school students are busy spending their summer at community pools, working part-time jobs or hitting the malls, a group of 15 young people spent part of their summer at Barry diving into the world of science and research.
In fact, every summer for the past 16 years, a new group of 15-20 high school students has participated in the University’s Summer Science Research Program. Created as a community-based outreach effort, the program aims to get economically disadvantaged high school students excited about science and to give them a feel for what it’s like to be on a college campus.
“We wanted to do more community outreach. The program gets students involved in hands-on, real science, and exposes them to many different areas of science,” said Dr. Flona Redway, who leads the program along with her colleague Dr. Teresa Petrino-Lin, both of whom teach biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Summer Science Research Program has nearly doubled in size since its inception, with the number of participating high schools growing from six to 11. Recruitment for the program, which takes place for one week in June, begins in March, and high school students from Miami-Dade and Broward counties are required to submit applications to be considered for the program.
Once accepted, the students spend the entire day engrossed in debates, discussion and research regarding all things scientific. At the end of the week, the students take part in an awards luncheon where they are recognized and make presentations based on their research topics. Parents are encouraged to attend the luncheon so that they can see what the program has taught their children.
“We try to coordinate the program topics with what is going on in their everyday lives, so that they can relate,” Petrino-Lin said. “Most of them don’t know about research or what it’s like to be a scientist. This program educates them on this.”
This year’s topic centered on genetically modified food, which gave the students the opportunity to discuss and debate how science has affected what and how they eat.
As part of their research, they isolated DNA from the foods made from corn, soy bean or wheat. They then amplified parts of this DNA by performing a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR); finally, they analyzed the results looking for the presence or absence of the specific DNA sequences characteristic of those artificially introduced genes.
They found that some products were indeed made by utilizing genetically modified crops, which led to discussions on the pros and cons of consuming genetically modified foods.
“We wanted to do more community outreach. The program gets students involved in hands-on, real science, and exposes them to many different areas of science.”
“It was such a valuable experience, and not something you would get in a normal classroom environment, and that’s because you are surrounded by kids who are just as interested in science as you are,” said Edwin Rubledo, a student from Everglades High School in Miramar, Florida, who hopes to someday work in the chemistry or biology field.
The success of the program is partially due to the support it has garnered from the supermarket chain Publix. Their ongoing financial support has helped to fund the salaries for Redway and Petrino-Lin, as well as provide the students with program supplies, transportation and meals at the Landon Student Union cafeteria.
This support has also afforded the students the opportunity to work with new technology as it becomes available, something they may not be exposed to in a typical high school classroom.
“It’s been rewarding, both educationally and socially,” said Lourgem Famador, a student at American Senior High School in Miami. “I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought I would, and that’s because of the hands-on approach of the program.”