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"I could really see myself doing this every day"

Simons Foundation funding provides high-school students hands-on summer learning opportunities
Posted October 1, 2015
Caitlin Hogan Caitlin Hogan

On a typical day on the Homewood campus this summer, Caitlin Hogan experimented with synthesizing quantum dots. Muriel Leung wrote code in the Python programming language to track health trends in social media. And Benjamin Aladejebi studied cells extracted from SIV-positive primates to learn how the disease (the simian form of HIV) affects their nervous systems.

This level of work is customary for Hopkins undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers — but Hogan, Leung, and Aladejebi are still teenagers. They’re among the seven high school juniors and seniors who spent six weeks this summer immersed in scientific research through the Center for Talented Youth Summer Research Program.

Established with a $250,000 gift from the Simons Foundation, the program was designed to engage high schoolers in hands-on research and give them valuable experience in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Part of the Simons gift to CTY also supported a middle school science teaching project that brings together teachers and content experts to develop innovative science lessons.

Students were selected for this year’s pilot program on a need-blind basis, and those who qualified received financial aid. Funding from the Simons Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing research in basic science and mathematics, made it possible for each student to receive a $1,500 merit scholarship.

Students were placed in different Hopkins faculty labs to conduct research alongside research scientists. "Having our students in their space demonstrates to faculty that our kids are really able to do advanced-level work," says program coordinator Vicky Schneider.

Hogan, who worked in the Whiting School of Engineering’s NanoEnergy Laboratory, spent her summer learning how to safely use equipment like centrifuges and a glove box, and how to work with chemical substrates and nanoparticles.

The program also helped students feel more confident about their post-high school plans.

Leung, who spent her summer writing code in the Whiting School’s Human Language Technology Center of Excellence, is now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. After her summer experience, she switched her major from physics to computer science.

"Being a CTY summer researcher gave me experience and made me a better programmer," Leung says. "It gave me an idea of who I can work with, and the research that is going on in the world. I could really see myself doing this every day."