Science Wednesday: High School Interns Take the Podium

About the author: Kelly Leovic has been with EPA in Research Triangle Park, NC since 1987 and has served as the Project Officer for the Research Apprenticeship Program since 1996.

Last month I “introduced” eight high school student interns in EPA’s Research Apprenticeship Program, a collaborative program between EPA and Shaw University. The Program encourages high school students to pursue advanced degrees in environmental science.

intern using lab equipment at a workbenchThe internship provides students with hands-on research experience by immersing them in an EPA laboratory or computer project. This summer, the students learned cell culturing techniques, identifying cell DNA damage, fluorescent microscope use, analyzing filters to measure air pollution, and the application of databases in environmental research and regulations.

About halfway through the internship the students began to get really serious and a bit nervous. Why? Because on July 18 they would be presenting their projects to nearly 100 people, including their peers, parents, and EPA mentors.

On July 16, my coworker Suzanne gathered the students for a “dry run.” Some needed more work than others, but this is why we practice. The next day, we did another practice session – things were getting better. We share tips from previous years such as avoiding slides that are too fancy and, my personal pet peeve, for every slide that has a graph EXPLAIN the x and y variables FIRST.

As the students took the podium on July 18, I could tell that they were ready. All gave professional presentations on very complex topics, showing their understanding of the work that they did during their internship. Once they completed their presentations, they would each pause to ask, “Any questions?” Fortunately, we had a lively audience, so most of the students had at least a question or two. Although they dread this part, I tell them that it will make them stronger and that they will appreciate it in ten years.

We are so proud of the students who have interned at EPA. As of June 2008, 109 students have completed the four-year program, and 100% of these students attended college, with 62% majoring in a field of study related to science or math. In addition, 57% have gone to graduate school. The extra support provided by the program has also helped many of the students to receive scholarships. I guess you could say that they “took the podium and kept on going!”