TEMPLE — Diving into a rich variety of bioscience topics for 10 weeks, a group of high-achieving high school students emerged with some pearls of wisdom.
Twenty-two students entering their senior year in high school or beginning college, joined research teams in college or medical labs across Central Texas where they worked alongside professional research teams.
Ethan Atkisson, a senior at Harker Heights High School, helped test liver cell samples to better understand how chronic liver ailments affect the rest of the body.
The science was fascinating, said Atkisson, who plans to pursue a career in science, but the experience working alongside professionals and other students at the VA hospital in Temple is what he emphasized.
“It was compelling, a unique experience,” he said Tuesday during a culminating poster presentation at the Texas Bioscience Institute’s Scott & White West Campus. “It was something very grown-up, an official environment. We were doing something interesting with a purpose.”
The annual Central Texas 2-Step Summer Research Program is funded through the National Science Foundation to build interest in subjects like science, technology engineering and mathematics.
Christian Hernandez-Zegada, a Killeen High School senior, helped comb through Baylor Scott & White Healthcare System data regarding diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder.
The 10 years of data showed a major increase in diagnosis and treatment and suggested a connection to episodes of seizures, the student showed on his poster.
“It was a great experience,” Hernandez-Zegada said of the research. “My mentors taught me so much. I want to be a neurologist, so this really interests me.”
Molly Heckathorn, a senior at Harker Heights High School, tested a variety of fruit juices for treatment for a swallowing disorder called dysphagia.
Heckathorn said she was grateful for the opportunity to conduct real research and said her time in TBI has helped solidify her interest in pursuing a career in genetics.
Maryah Barker recently graduated from Ellison High School and said the 10 weeks of research fueled her excitement to start nursing studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“I learned how to do research correctly,” she said of her experience testing rat liver samples to better understand cancer growth and treatment. “This will help me in my future.”
Like many of the high school students working alongside experienced researchers, Atkisson said he was humbled.
“I worked with a student who is getting ready for medical school and we agreed it was a humbling experience,” the high school senior said. “I thought I had a handle on some of this, but there is so much more to know. It sparked my interest. I want to do it more.”