WOOSTER, Ohio Thirty-eight high-school and undergraduate students have spent this summer doing what is typically available only to scholars in graduate school: conducting laboratory and field research work alongside nationally and internationally recognized scientists.
They are the first crop of young science-minded students accepted into the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Centers (OARDC) Research Internship Program (ORIP) a program organized this year by OARDC faculty to provide real-world research experience to northeast Ohio high-school juniors and seniors as well as college undergrads.
The goal of this program is to substantially expand research opportunities to area students and to enhance their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by inculcating critical-thinking skills, said Parwinder Grewal, OARDC entomology professor and ORIP director. This is achieved by exposing the interns to rigorous laboratory and field-based research experiences, seminars, group discussions and symposia.
Running between June 9 and Aug. 15, this internship program is one way OARDC is answering the state of Ohios call for bold action to bolster the teaching of STEM disciplines in K-12 schools a move seen as crucial for the Buckeye state to attract and retain 21st-century businesses as well as to create and sustain high-skill, high-wage jobs.
Half of the students accepted into the 10-week, non-residential program are from school districts in Ashland, Holmes, Stark and Wayne counties; one even came from Indiana. The rest attend various colleges and universities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and California.
As part of the experience, interns have been working a minimum of 30 hours per week, mentored by an individual faculty member, a faculty member and post-doctoral fellow team, or a faculty member and graduate student team. A total of 23 Ohio State University faculty members Ã¢â¬â from molecular biologists to engineers to water-quality specialists Ã¢â¬â are involved in the program. The internship also includes a stipend of $2,000-$3,200 for each student, depending on his or her grade level and experience.
One of the interns is Sonia Masih, 16, who will be a senior this year at Wooster High School. Her research project involves evaluating the efficacy of an organic byproduct of biodiesel production as an organic herbicide and soil amendment, comparing it to two commercially available bio-herbicides used in organic farming.
This experiment has never been done before, said Brian McSpadden Gardener, Masihs faculty mentor and an associate professor of plant pathology. So if the glycerol byproduct turns out to be an effective weed killer or fungicide, her work could have quite an impact since Ohios biodiesel plants generate over 200,000 gallons of the stuff every year and organic agriculture is in great need of bio-pesticides.
Im really interested in exploring science, said Masih, who pointed out that learning about plant pathology would be a good starting point for her plans to study human pathology in college. This experience is teaching me responsibility and independence, working on my own for the first time.
For McSpadden Gardener, the value of internship programs such as ORIP is three-fold. This will help students learn more about careers available in the life sciences, he explained. Its also good for my lab to have smart students who are motivated to accomplish something, and its a great opportunity to show what the OARDC is doing for the larger community.
The 2008 summer internship will conclude this Friday, Aug. 15, with students giving presentations about their research projects. Those who successfully complete the program will receive certificates, and one or more scholars will also receive the Best Team Research Award.
The research arm of Ohio States College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, OARDC is the largest and most comprehensive facility of its kind in the United States.