Washington University primes high school students for science careers
By: Betsy Zatkulak
For some time, Parkway North senior Noah Feuer knew he had a passion for biology and wanted to do something with it. But it wasn’t until his mother discovered a program at Washington University in St. Louis looking for high school students to do environmental fieldwork at Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve that his future with science really began to take shape.
“Now I really know what’s out there and what I can do,” said Feuer, who jumped at the chance to do fieldwork on the WUSTL fire ecology team, studying the use of fire management on invasive plant species with Dr. Raelene Crandall. “They showed me what it’s really like and it really opened my eyes to what different paths are open to me.”
Created in 2008 through a grant from the National Science Foundation, SIFT (Shaw Institute for Field Training) and TERF (Tyson Environmental Research Fellowships) is a partnership between WUSTL’s Tyson Research Center and the Shaw Nature Reserve that gives high school students hands-on experience in environmental research.
“We were looking for a way to start up educational outreach at Tyson Research Center that would be in alignment with the ecological research projects being conducted by WUSTL faculty, post-doctoral researchers and graduate students,” said Susan K. Flowers, assistant director of WUSTL Institute for School Partnership. “High school students seemed to be the best fit for this level of scientific work.”
Participants must first go through SIFT, a one-week summer introductory field training program at Shaw Nature Reserve. SIFT gives them a variety of skills for scientific exploration of the natural world. The program also introduces participants to the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems present in Missouri.
Students can then apply for the TERF program, a research internship program that provides students with immersion into the culture of ecological and environmental biology research at a university-based field station.
SIFT supports students who are new to working in the outdoors and thinking about the environment as a living laboratory. TERF allows for a deeper understanding and the opportunity to try out a career path in a very real way.
“Taken together, SIFT and TERF represent two different types of educational experience – exploration and immersion,” Flowers explained.
Jacqueline Sotraidis is a senior at Parkway North who plans on majoring in aerospace engineering, but also has a passion for biology and ecology. She said SIFT and TERF confirmed just how much she really enjoys research.
“I’m definitely going to try to do something in research in college and in my actual career field,” Sotraidis said.
Sotraidis was on the WUSTL aquatic research team.
“You’re not just doing grunt work. You’re really doing the same work as the other undergraduate students and even the researchers,” she said.
In addition to learning a lot, there are other benefits for SIFT and TERF participants.
Meeting and hanging out with like-minded students from high schools throughout the region is one, and TERF participants are paid $8 per hour for their work on a WUSTL research team.
However, the biggest benefit for participants, according to Flowers, is the career exploration piece of the program.
“They get to work side-by-side with people who are at varying stages in their career paths and this can really help them get a sense of what it takes to do this type of work,” said Flowers.
Sometimes the benefit for students who participate in the program is the discovery that environmental science and fieldwork is not the career choice for them.
Parkway West senior and science enthusiast Adil Hassan explained, “It’s something I would like to do on the side maybe, or something I’d like to be involved with throughout my years, but it’s not something I would want to do every single day.”
Asked if they would recommend SIFT and TERF to other students, all three Parkway students said “yes” and that they already have.
“I think anyone who’s even somewhat interested in biology or nature, or even just wants to learn how to work with other people … should definitely apply for it – go for it – and do it,” said Feuer.
The deadline to submit the SIFT 2013-14 application is March 29. For more information, visit schoolpartnershipwustl.edu.