By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
TEMPLE — Thirty-two Central Texas high school and college students spent 10 weeks over the summer working on a wide variety of research teams in area medical facilities.
Culminating their experience Wednesday, students displayed their conclusions in a poster showcase at the Texas Bioscience Institute on the west campus of Scott & White Medical Center.
The students shared experiences from their labors with mentors from Scott & White, Texas A&M Health Science Center and other research facilities.
"I was surprised how hands-on the experience was in the lab," said Evan Harnish, a recent Ellison High School graduate. "Everyone was friendly and helpful. I felt like I got to know everyone."
He took part in a research project working on liver regeneration in transplant patients. The student is preparing to start biomedical studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Roni Miller, a Harker Heights High School senior, worked with researchers on a five-year study of pelvic organ deterioration. She helped experiment on sedated squirrel monkeys, which develop a similar disorder.
"It was very beneficial," Miller said. "I learned it takes patience to do this work. I didn't know how many women experience this – I learned a lot from the doctors."
Spending a year attending TBI courses in Temple was life changing, Miller said. She explained that she bonded with students who have similar interests and prefer studying math and science to going out on the weekends.
"I loved being at the hospital," she said of the summer research. "I saw what happens before surgeries, all the preparations that go on." After high school, she hopes to study neurology.
John Idoux, a chemistry instructor and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant that funds the summer research said the experience is motivating tomorrow's scientist's.
"Anyone who sees this ought to see we're fulfilling the program," he said, noting that the $1.5 million five-year grant is aimed at filling a national shortage of science, math and engineering professionals.
The summer research opportunity, the signature program of the grant, requires students to submit an application to compete for placement. Students receive a $2,500 stipend for their work. "It's not job shadowing," Idoux emphasized.
Surveys indicate that students leave with confirmation of their already existing interest in pursuing math and science and are able to refine their interest to a more specific field.
Recent Shoemaker High School graduate Laesha Stephens is a good example. She took part in a study aimed at delaying the onset of dementia.
Tests on a study sample of 407 patients indicated that intellectual activity plays a role in warding off the effects of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, while chronic illness accelerates early onset of dementia.
Preparing to start school at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Stephens said she especially enjoyed the analysis part of the dementia study.
Mayghan Findley, a recent Harker Heights High School graduate, worked with a team studying liver cancer treatment.
Laboratory data on a specific treatment was inconclusive, which Findley said made her want to continue to work through the research.
"It was such a great time," said Findley, who is set to begin studies at Texas Tech, where she wants to pursue biology, forensics and psychology.
"I would encourage people to do this," she said. "You never know where your interests are if you don't try."