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High School Internships and Research Opportunities – a new program to engage high-school students from diverse backgrounds in atmospheric sciences

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Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 9:15 AM
High School Internships and Research Opportunities – a new program to engage high-school students from diverse backgrounds in atmospheric sciences
604 (Washington State Convention Center)
Rebecca Haacker-Santos, UCAR, Boulder, CO; and N. Wade, R. Pandya, and K. Ham

Research suggests that the combination of mentoring and authentic research experience helps motivate and prepare students to pursue studies in STEM; furthermore, recent reports stress the benefit of engaging students in science and research as early as high school, before they decide on a college or major. Based on these recommendations, UCAR designed an internship program for high school students. Building on 2009's successful two-student pilot program, in 2010 the UCAR Community Building Program offered summer research internships to ten high school students.

To ensure a diverse class and attract and recruit top high school juniors and seniors from the local area, we reached out to local secondary high school teachers and partnered with the Colorado Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program, which is designed to prepare minority and female students to for college majors in mathematics, engineering or science.

The students experience was modeled after UCAR's SOARS program. The interns worked 20 hours per week for five weeks under the guidance of a science/research mentor at either UCAR/NCAR labs or local NOAA labs. Students were each given an independent project; their topics ranged from ‘Altitude resolved mid-IR transmission of H2O and CO2 at Mauna Loa, Hawaii' to ‘Microwave-derived temperature profiles from the HIPPO-1 Project'. Students also met as a group with a writing mentor for four hours each week to discuss their projects and to produce a professional-quality poster, which they shared in a poster session along with this year's SOARS students. To help broaden support for the program and ensure its sustainability, the students gave short explanations about their summer projects to several internal UCAR Committees. To help guide the program's evolution, this year's summer internship program will be formally evaluated using a survey, as well as informal student and mentor interviews. In addition, each student will write a reflective essay about their summer internship experience.

This presentation will further describe our recruiting, outline the summer experience, and share recommendations resulting from our evaluations. Our preliminary and informal evaluation indicates that students gained confidence in their research abilities and used their critical thinking abilities to contribute to the research projects. Further, NCAR scientists and staff were encouraged by the students' ability to contribute to scientific research. Overall, we confirmed that high school students are interested in and prepared to participate in scientific research, and that research experience can contribute to academic growth.