‘Unofficial 100th KEYS Student' has a Knack for Research

The Keep Engaging Youth in Science program connects Arizona high school students with UA researchers and staff, helping them to gain a better understading of the world of research, and their place in it.
July 13, 2011
Extra Info: 

The Keep Engaging Youth in Science program is primarily sponsored by the  Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the UA College of Pharmacy and the BIO5 Institute.

KEYS Science Interns Poster Session
July 15, 10 a.m.-noon
Room 103 of the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building, 1657 E. Helen St.

With college looming, Carlos Ramirez was drawn to the health sciences field but wanted to make sure it would be his calling. He figured the best way to explore this was KEYS.

The Keep Engaging Youth in Science or KEYS, program, is a six-week summer internship program in which exceptional Arizona high school students gain hands-on experience in scientific research at the University of Arizona.

"I wanted to know if research was my true calling and what area of research interests me the most," said Ramirez, who recently graduated from Pueblo High School in Tucson.

Ramirez and 23 other high school students students who have been working in UA labs during the summer internship will be presenting their work during a poster session.

The session, free and open to the public, will be held July 15, 10 a.m. to noon in Room 103 of the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building, 1657 E. Helen St. 

More than 100 students have been involved in the KEYS program, which is now in its fifth year.

Kim Tham, a UA junior and Honors College student, was one of the first to go through KEYS in 2007.

Currently studying biosystems engineering, Tham said: "KEYS introduced me to science in ways I had never imagined for myself. From experimental design to publishing in scientific journals, I began to understand the possibilities and rewards for pursuing a degree in science."

Ramirez said a teacher informed him and others about KEYS last year and applied this year because he wanted to explore whether he was more interested in medical practice or research. "Plus I wanted the internship experience," he added. 

Now, almost is finished with the program, Ramirez said he has enjoyed his time in KEYS.

"I really enjoy my time in the lab where I can put into place the knowledge I acquired in my biotech courses," he said. "The real-world applications provided through this program make it a successful experience."

Ramirez is researching how different members of the oryza species genetically have changed and where those differences show up in other members of the species.

He is studying with Rod A. Wing, a professor with the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of the UA BIO5 Institute, and Dave Kudrna, coordinator of the BAC/EST Resource Center.

"It is a great way to expose young minds to the fields of science and, in our case, the field of genome research and plant biology," said Wing, who has been involved with and mentored students in the KEYS program for the past three years.

Kudrna has been involved since the KEYS program inception and says being a part of the program is great for his work and for him.

"I love seeing the excitement in upcoming students who are passionate about science and how we are able to develop their curiosity," he said. "We have weekly meetings where we talk about new technology and how we can better utilize it in not only our work but our lives."

According to both of his mentors, Ramirez has shown a knack for research.

"He's right there at the top of kids we've had in the program," Kudrna said. "He's a sharp kid who's shown that he wants to be here."

This fall, Ramirez begins his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania where he plans to major in biology.

"My plans are to start with general courses and see what concentration I like the most," Ramirez said. "Hopefully I'll find a long-term interest and start my career in the health sciences."