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Engaging K-12 students from diverse backgrounds in atmospheric sciences Hosting high school research internships at NCAR/UCAR

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Monday, 18 January 2010
Lynette L. Laffea, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and R. Haacker-Santos, K. Hunter, C. Loya-Hernandez, and R. Pandya

Research suggests that the combination of mentoring and authentic research experience enhances undergraduate students' motivation to pursue studies in STEM. In order to see if this also applies to high school students, the UCAR's Community Building Program hosted two high school students in a pilot project to offer research experiences through summer internships. The two students were recommended by the Colorado Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program, which is designed to encourage minority and female students to prepare themselves for a college education and to major in mathematics, engineering or science. The evaluation of this pilot project will include informal interviews and online evaluations from the students and mentors.

Modeled after UCAR's SOARS program, the students worked for eight weeks in the Earth Observing Laboratory at NCAR under guidance of a science mentor as well as support from community, writing and peer mentors. They were each given an independent project setting up experiments that used wireless sensor technologies to measure global warming processes at a field research location near Boulder, Colorado. Wireless sensor technologies are new to atmospheric sciences, and researchers are interested in how these technologies can be used to assist their research. Results of their research will be used to provide feedback to engineers of these technologies for environmental applications. The students also gave an oral talk to a friendly audience and presented the results of their research at a poster session. In the future, we plan to work with MESA to offer ongoing guidance to the students on how to pursue a career in STEM.

This presentation describes our summer experience, shares lessons learned and presents recommendations resulting from our evaluations. For example, preliminary evaluation indicates that the students gained confidence in their research abilities. Further, NCAR scientists learned that high school students are more than capable of contributing to scientific research. Overall, we found that despite the challenge to provide an augmented mentoring and support system for the students, involving high school students in research brought positive results to both students and mentors.