TEMPLE — The rare experience of working 10 weeks alongside a research team while still in high school is not lost on the high-achieving students at the Texas Bioscience Institute.

Stepping down a hallway at the TBI campus Tuesday, several educators, parents and other guests confided in one another an obvious truth — “This stuff is way over my head.”

The Central Texas 2-Step Summer Research experience is an unusual opportunity for a small number of gifted science- and medical-minded students.

This year 35 students, mainly incoming high school seniors and students just started or about to start college, worked with ongoing research teams at Scott & White and Texas A&M University research facilities.

They worked with college students, medical students and medical staff on projects ranging from immunity dysfunction to post-traumatic stress disorder, rural medical care availability and cancer treatment.

The 10-week research project culminated for the TBI students with their annual poster presentations at the TBI Scott & White west campus.

Shoemaker High School senior Shakira Wingate worked with researchers at the Texas A&M Scott & White campus, searching for causes of certain immunity dysfunctions.

With a year to go in high school, Wingate said the summer experience in the lab “was a blessing.”

The science she learned alone made the time special, but beyond that, she said she has a mentor now who can help guide her education and career.

“I love the medical field,” she said. “This showed me what goes into research — it’s a lot of work.”

Darin Garrett, a Harker Heights High School senior, worked with researchers on a project aimed at treating a specific kind of benign brain tumor.

“This was actually fun,” he said, pointing to his poster describing the complex research.

Garrett said he spent most of the eight-hour workdays with a neuro-oncologist, exposing the high school senior to every phase of cancer treatment and a myriad of medical departments.

He began the research project with plans to pursue a future as a nurse practitioner and finished with hopes of being a doctor.

Shelbi Shaffer, a 2013 Harker Heights High School graduate, is headed to Texas State University and nursing school.

Her work centered on recruiting and retaining nurses in rural areas of Central Texas. She and her team found that those who practice medical care in places like Taylor and Hutto choose to stay based on the relationships they develop with patients and colleagues.

The experience, she said, opened up a career field she had not considered that combines her desire to be a nurse and to teach — the nursing educators who train new nurses.

Shoemaker High School senior Bryonna Douglas took part in a study about treating swelling in expectant mothers.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “The people in the lab were very helpful, even those who weren’t a part of the study. They were all open to helping me. They didn’t treat me as a high school student. They treated me as a lab worker.”

Julia Smith, a Harker Heights High School senior, worked on a chemistry project testing how water viscosity impacts living organisms.

“It was a fulfilling experience,” Smith said. “I think it will make me more competitive in college. I gained insight on where to go from here. It broadened my education.”

A National Science Foundation grant funds the summer research.

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