Post image for High school students RISE in summer research program

High school students RISE in summer research program

July 13, 2016

When Mary Ann Tellas was a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington, she had the good fortune to encounter the late Jim Holland, a professor of biology at IU Bloomington known for his tireless recruiting and mentoring of students, particularly students underrepresented on campus.

“His biology course was packed with students, and I could see why. His teaching inspired students. He got me to really enjoy biology,” says Tellas, who went on to earn a degree in biology and teach high school biology in the Indianapolis area.

“Years later, Dr. Holland sought me out to work with a program he developed to address the racial disparities that exist in STEM,” Tellas adds. “I never knew how he found me, but I was honored to be a part of the initiative.”

Tellas now co-directs the program founded by Holland and has developed two additional related programs with Armin Moczek, professor of biology at IU Bloomington. The three STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs for underrepresented students are offered through the Department of Biology at IU Bloomington.

The first two programs are the Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program, enabling eighth- to 10th-grade students to spend a week on campus, and the Jim Holland Summer Science Research Program, during which a subset of first-year students from the summer enrichment program return to campus to spend a week conducting research with an IU Bloomington faculty member.

The newest of the programs is the Jim Holland Research Initiative in STEM Education, or RISE, a two-week summer program that just finished its inaugural year this summer at IU Bloomington.

“What has been missing at IU, but also broadly across the underrepresented minority-STEM landscape, is a program that connects these types of early high school initiatives to college and beyond,” says Moczek.

“RISE is such a program,” he continues. “It completes a big part of the STEM pipeline vision we hold.”

In June, RISE brought 10 top-performing students, all about to be seniors in their respective schools, to the Bloomington campus. They were exposed to eight scientific disciplines, from atmospheric sciences to mathematics and statistics to virology, in classes and hands-on activities taught by more than 40 IU faculty members and graduate students. Along the way, the students were also given tours of campus and loads of information about campus programs regarding college readiness, scholarships, service learning, undergraduate research opportunities and more.

Moczek calls RISE a “huge deal.” RISE participants Isis Smith and Kathryn Gilmer agree. On a hot summer afternoon, Smith and Gilmer donned white lab coats over their T-shirts and carried out plaque assays — a common scientific procedure for determining the quantity of infectious virus particles in a sample — in the basement laboratory of Tuli Mukhopadhyay, an associate professor of biology at IU Bloomington.

“The experience and exposure of this program are amazing,” says Smith, who is from Hammond, Ind., and aims to pursue biochemistry in college. “Plus it’s an excuse to come to this campus. Being at IU excites me.”

“This is such a unique opportunity,” adds Gilmer, from Carmel, Ind. “It’s just so interesting to learn about all the different types of science, and it helps me figure out what kind of science I want to pursue.”

Both Smith and Gilmer plan to apply to IU, which Moczek and Tellas say is one of two main goals of the RISE program. “We want them to stay in STEM, and we want them to come here,” says Moczek.

If the first- and second-year Holland programs are any indication, RISE will accomplish those goals. So far, Moczek and Tellas note, 100 percent of the students who’ve been through earlier Holland programs have enrolled in a postsecondary institution, 37 percent of them at IU Bloomington or another IU campus. More than 68 percent of all the participants report majoring in a STEM discipline.

Denis Joseph, a student from Bloomington, doesn’t plan to do lab research when he gets to IU. His sights are set on being a direct admit to the Kelley School of Business, but RISE has been no less valuable, he says.

“The Holland programs have been super rewarding and valuable,” says Joseph. “I’ve learned the skills to be able to think critically and observe what others don’t. I think the exposure and engagement with leaders in their fields of study we get puts us years ahead.”

Davis Joseph, another RISE student and Denis’s twin brother, is serious about pursuing premed in college and says the opportunities to practice “hands-on stuff” have been a high point of the program for him. At another lab station, Christen Lee, from the Chicago area, shares his view.

“We’re hands-on in the lab almost every day, and I really enjoy it,” Lee says. “I can see and understand all at the same time.”

As she pauses between working with student pairs, Tuli Mukhopadhyay notes that the high schoolers around her lab are doing hands-on work typical of a 400-level college course in virology.

“I’m super impressed with this group,” Mukhopadhyay says. “They’re not afraid to ask questions.”

During a break in the afternoon’s experimental procedure, the RISE students question third-year biology graduate student Tamanash Bhattacharya about his experiences. Bhattacharya attests to his love for viruses (“viruses shape the tree of life”) and to the open and collaborative nature of the Department of Biology (“you can follow your own questions”).

“Cool,” say the students, nodding their heads before turning back to their microscopes. “Very cool.”

The Holland programs receive support from the IU Bloomington College of Arts & Sciences, the IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, and IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. For more information about these pre-college programs, visit their page on the IU Bloomington Department of Biology website. To learn more about Moczek’s outreach projects, visit his lab’s website.