Thirty-six exceptional Arizona high school students will gain hands-on experience in scientific research this summer during the sixth annual Keep Engaging Youth in Science, or KEYS, Internship Program at the University of Arizona.
The UA BIO5 Institute and the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the UA College of Pharmacy direct the program, which runs May 29 through July 13. By the conclusion of this session, more than 135 Arizona teens will have completed KEYS internships and contributed to ongoing research projects across the University.
This year's students are from greater Tucson-area high schools, including Pueblo, Catalina, University, Tucson High, St. Gregory's, Basis, Flowing Wells, Mountain View, Canyon del Oro and Sahuarita, and schools in Nogales, Phoenix, Chandler and Glendale.
They were chosen competitively from more than 115 applicants. The high-schoolers will work in UA laboratories engaged in bioscience, bioengineering and environmental health science research.
The KEYS interns will attend a training institute during the first week of the program. This year's opening will feature remarks by several past interns, including Jacquelyn De Sa, a graduate of the 2011 KEYS group who has been accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Of her KEYS experience, De Sa said, "I came into KEYS last summer knowing virtually nothing about the field of research I was about to engage in. Although my hands first quivered at the prospect of loading a gel ring, my training in KEYS, the support of my fellow interns and my lab team's willingness to answer incessant questions fostered an environment where I could grow to love my research and understand it on a level most high school students are never exposed to."
"KEYS provided an environment of learning, engagement and passion for science that made it possible for me to grow as a scientist, a student and a leader in both the scientific community and the community as a whole."
Following the training week, interns will participate in research under the mentorship of UA investigators and graduate students and attend weekly seminars to discuss their experiences and practice science communication skills.
The seven-week experience will culminate with research poster presentations to their peers, families and the public, on July 13 at 10 a.m. in the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building.
More than 80 UA faculty members have mentored KEYS interns since the program began in 2007. More than 30 researchers are involved this year, including Rod Wing of the Arizona Genomics Institute and Serrine S. Lau, director of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center. Lau welcomed high school students to her lab for research projects even before the KEYS program was organized.
"These young people are the ones who will be continuing with the scientific discovery," Lau said. "They will be the ones who will be taking from what little we know now and expanding on further investigation. We must start now by allowing students to ask questions in the search for answers."
The KEYS internship program relies entirely on financial support by the community and receives funding from the BIO5 Institute, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, foundation and corporate sponsorships and contributions from individual donors.
One foundation that underwrites KEYS is the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation. Foundation President Sarah Brown Smallhouse said, "We support the KEYS internship program because it provides a creative experience that can impact a student's life forever. Sparking curiosity and teaching the methods of discovery can set a young person off on an exciting career path in science and technology key underpinnings of innovation and American competitiveness in the world."
"We believe that it's particularly important to invest in talented and enthusiastic young people interested in the biosciences, medicine and associated fields and research during challenging economic times. We are pleased to be able to help students who may not otherwise be financially able to participate in the KEYS program."
The BIO5 Institute at the UA mobilizes top researchers in five disciplines – agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science – to find collaborative solutions to humanity's most pressing health and environmental challenges.
Since 2001, its multidisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostic devices and promising new therapies. In addition, BIO5 is a leader in science education, outreach and training programs throughout Arizona.
Housed in the UA College of Pharmacy, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center is a collaborative interdisciplinary research center that actively is investigating the effects of environmental agents on human health. The center also provides community outreach and education related to how exposures to environmental agents (and other stresses) contribute to human disease.