It is not often that students get to work with world-renowned research scientists before they enter college, however for six seniors from Pike County High School that is exactly what happened for the 2017-2018 school year. The students are the second class of Pike County High School’s STEM Academy to complete the STEM Internship Program on the University of Georgia Griffin Campus.
Through the program, the students worked alongside UGA research scientists to become better prepared for post-secondary education and future careers in STEM fields.
This year’s interns included Nathan Dodson, Ansley Fancher, Isabella Patel, John Tomko, Thomas Ware and Tia Watts. Three days a week, the students worked with mentors like UGA Horticulturists Dr. Dario Chavez and Dr. Rachel Itle, FoodPIC Director Dr. Kirk Kealey, Food Science and Technology sensory scientist Dr. Koushik Adhikari, and USDA-Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit peanut curator Dr. Shyam Tallury. At the end of the program, the students had completed a minimum of 120 internship hours per semester.
James Stanford, assistant principal for Pike County High School, could not be more thrilled for the program to continue for the second year.
“The UGA Griffin and Pike County STEM Academy partnership allows student interns to gain experiences in research and lab techniques that are not available in a high school setting,” said Stanford. “This opportunity is remarkable because high school students are able to intern at the Griffin campus working on authentic research with professors who are experts and leaders in their fields.”
The interns agree with Stanford’s sentiments and all of them noted during their project presentations how grateful they were to have the chance to work with such celebrated scientists. Each student gave a presentation on their experience at the End of Program Celebration held on April 12 at UGA Griffin.
Ansley Fancher and Thomas Ware assisted USDA scientist Dr. Shyam Tallury on “National Peanut Collection Maintenance and Characterization.” Fancher was amazed at the amount of experience she was able to gain as a high school student. She spent most of her time working in the lab using state-of-the-art equipment while working on the project. While touring the UGA main campus in Athens, Fancher spoke with a college junior who is just getting to use the equipment Fancher and Ware used during their STEM internship.
“It was amazing that she had just used the gel electrophoresis system as a junior in college and here we are using it as seniors in high school,” said Fancher adding she felt very fortunate to have the opportunity.
Nathan Dodson and John Tomko interned with Dr. Kirk Kealey and the FoodPIC team during the second semester. Their project on “Product Development of Low Cost Cattleman’s Carolina Tangy Gold Barbeque Sauce,” gave them the chance to not only work in the lab, but also gain hands-on experience working with the client. The pair was charged with recreating the barbeque sauce for a restaurant that uses it as a base for their wing sauce. The client wanted to determine if it would be more cost efficient to make the barbeque sauce recipe from scratch as opposed to purchasing the Cattleman’s brand. Dodson and Tomko toiled away in the kitchen until they had a near exact recipe and ultimately did find it would be more economical for the client to make the sauce rather than purchase it. During their presentation, both stated how much they enjoyed the internship and appreciated the chance to be a part of every step of the process.
Tia Watts and Isabella Patel both worked with horticulturist Dr. Rachel Itle during the second semester on her blueberry research. Watts’ project was the “Analysis of Flavor Volatiles in Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye Blueberry Type,” while Patel’s was the “Comparison of Seed Traits in Blueberry Cultivars Treated with Rescue Treatments.” During her presentation, Patel stated she learned a lot about Georgia-grown blueberries and the state’s blueberry industry through the internship.
“I have now learned just how important blueberries are to Georgia’s economy,” she said, describing her experience as “eye-opening.”
Exposing young people to different scientific fields and industries is a large part of why Stanford is glad his students have the chance participate in the program.
“Interns gain insight on the importance of scientific inquiry and witness firsthand how the research taking place at UGA Griffin impacts the world,” he said. “We are so fortunate to have UGA Griffin as a partner. The support and resources provided by faculty mentors and the University is amazing.”
Dr. Lew Hunnicutt, assistant provost and campus director for UGA Griffin, could not be more pleased with the internship program and hopes many more students will continue to take part in it in the future.
“I am very proud that the University of Georgia Griffin Campus is partnering with Pike County High School to offer the STEM Internship Program. I am extremely impressed with the quality interns we have each year and look forward to the program continuing for many years to come,” Hunnicutt said.
To be eligible to apply for the program, students must be enrolled in the Pike County STEM Academy in their junior year and have a minimum GPA of 3.7.