2012 KEYS interns Ariana Manson and Sam Gianelli
2012 KEYS interns Ariana Manson and Sam Gianelli

UA Science Internship Pairs High School Students, Research Mentors

During the seven-week immersion program, interns will train in bioscience techniques and communication skills and perform hands-on scientific laboratory research, working side-by-side with faculty and postdoctoral and graduate students in UA labs.
May 31, 2013
2012 KEYS intern Chrisitan Daahir
2012 KEYS intern Chrisitan Daahir
2010 KEYS intern Lochan Shah
2010 KEYS intern Lochan Shah

The University of Arizona will welcome 48 high school students from across the state when the annual Keep Engaging Youth in Science, or KEYS, internship program begins on June 3.

During the seven-week immersion program, interns will train in bioscience techniques and communication skills and perform hands-on scientific laboratory research, working side-by-side with faculty and postdoctoral and graduate students in UA labs.

KEYS is co-directed by the UA's BIO5 Institute and the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, or SWEHSC, at the College of Pharmacy.

The internship will conclude on July 19 with a formal research showcase open to the public in which the students will present their work to family, friends, UA faculty and KEYS supporters.

Over the past seven years, the program has sustained rapid growth from nine inaugural interns, to 36 in 2012, to the cohort of 48 that will begin next week. Students are accepted into the KEYS program after a stringent application and interview process.

This year's students are from a diverse cross-section of greater Tucson-area high schools, as well as from schools in Yuma, Flagstaff, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Cave Creek and Surprise. They were chosen competitively from more than 156 applicants with an average GPA of 3.93.

Upon conclusion of the 2013 program, 188 Arizona teens – almost 50 percent of whom are from backgrounds underrepresented in science careers – will have completed KEYS internships and contributed to ongoing research projects across the university.

"KEYS is designed to reflect one of the university's primary outreach initiatives: to create pre-college opportunities that attract and retain the best and brightest students to the UA," said Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of BIO5.

KEYS interns are enrolled in the University for the summer and receive three academic credits for their participation.

According to Dr. Serrine Lau, director of SWEHSC, "The top KEYS programmatic goal is to give students real-world experiences that spark scientific curiosity and discovery, which can play a huge role in helping them decide whether to pursue science careers. For many students, this will be the first time they are exposed to science outside of a textbook and are able to interact with scientists as real people."

KEYS alumni data show that of the now college-aged students, 54 percent currently attend the UA and attribute that in large part to their KEYS experience. Out of those students, 83 percent are pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) related degree.

Another important part of the program's success is the dedicated participation of many of the UA's top researchers who generously volunteer their time and expertise to mentor students in their laboratories year after year. More than 80 UA faculty members have mentored KEYS interns since the program began in 2007.

With the increase in the number of enrolled KEYS interns, new mentors have stepped in, with 45 labs and principal investigators hosting students this year, including Martinez, Lau and other members of both the BIO5 and SWEHSC leadership teams.

Rick Myers, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, is a staunch advocate of the KEYS program. "I believe that programs like KEYS highlight the very best of the UA in terms of experiential learning opportunities. Top-performing students from diverse backgrounds who are able to spend quality time on campus and work in laboratories with our world-class researchers while still in high school are far more likely to be excited about returning as undergraduates," said Myers. He will give welcome remarks at the July 19 KEYS Research Showcase.

KEYS leaders are working to establish an endowment for the program. The KEYS internship program relies on financial support from the community and receives funding from foundation and corporate sponsorships, contributions from individual donors including Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Keating, The Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, Pima County Joint Technological Education District, Sanofi, the UA College of Medicine, the UA Noyce Scholar's Program, the UA College of Pharmacy, SWEHSC and BIO5. Financial assistance is provided to help students who may not otherwise be able to participate in a program like KEYS. 

The BIO5 Institute mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity's most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics and devices, and promising new therapies.

Housed in the UA College of Pharmacy, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center is a collaborative interdisciplinary research center that is actively 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.