Summer research program provides hands-on experience

Posted on Jul 22 2013 - 10:34pm by Nick Andrews

After a $650,000 grant was given to The University of Mississippi, three high school students are conducting research on campus.

Their research is a part of a summer research program made possible by the National Science Foundation grant received by the university.

Chemistry professor Amal Daas proposed the grant in July 2012 after a trial run of a mentoring program. The National Science Foundation awarded Ole Miss the $650,000 from June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2018.

One portion of the grant’s funding will bring elite high school students to Ole Miss. Throughout Summer Session II, high school students have been assisting in research while graduate students mentor and work closely with the high school students.

“When you look at the summer programs that are successful, they are the most unique opportunities and that’s what we’re trying to set up here,” Director of pre-college programs Cass Dodgen said.

Dodgen was instrumental in bringing the grant to Ole Miss as well as in making the summer program a possibility.

“It’s nice for the students to experience not just Ole Miss, but Oxford,” Dodgen said.

Dodgen also said these are elite students who are interested in hands-on research.

The program accepted three high school students for 2013: Grace Brosofsky, 17, of Georgia, David Bryde, 17, of Mississippi, and Jake Thrasher, 17, of Alabama.

“I’d really like to make a practical difference in the world,” Brosofsky said. “Last year I became really interested in the Google science fair.”

Brosofsky’s project in the fair was recognized as a finalist in multiple mediums.

Thrasher plans to study bio-chemical engineering in medicine and his goal is to assist in the fight against cancer.

“When I was younger, I had two friends diagnosed with cancer around the same time,” Thrasher said. “We visited them often and seeing everyone suffering made me want to help them.” Thrasher isn’t intimidated by the laboratory environment.

“It’s right up my alley; it’s what I want to do.” Thrasher said. “I want to be challenged.”

Bryde said that being at Ole Miss this summer has given him a sense of responsibility.

“I gave a tour to Grace and I took care of business with a few colleges,” Bryde said. “I didn’t really care about physics, but I noticed as I got further into school I had a desire to go into theoretical physics. I even developed a few favorite physicists.”

Bryde said Nikola Tesla is perhaps his favorite physicist and even celebrates Nikola Tesla Day. He went further to say his experience this summer at Ole Miss has been utterly fun and extremely educational.

“I learned tons of processes, what the machines did and even how to read some of the graphs,” Bryde said.

The trio of high schoolers work almost exclusively in the lab during the week at Ole Miss. Their housing is in conjunction with other high school summer camps happening concurrently at Ole Miss, as they are staying at the Residential College and have meals on campus.

Brosfosky, Bryde and Thrasher all intend to try their chances with major Boston universities, specifically the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. But they are also considering other alternatives.

Chemistry professor Amal Daas said the summer program isn’t like a typical summer camp. Rather, he said the high school students are making legitimate contributions.

“They are active participants in research,” Daas said. “If they could get their name on published research, that would give them a great advantage later in their careers.”

Daas maintains the importance of real hands-on contributions in the lab as well as outside of it.

“We all play frisbee twice a week. None of them can believe I am better than them,” Daas said to the smiles of the students and mentors in the room. “It takes repetition and I’ve been doing it for the longest; but, you have to start somewhere.”

Daas believes this summer program is barely scraping the surface of what could be coming. He plans to have four students come each year with one student from North Panola High School represented each year.

While Daas said the plans for the summer program involving North Panola High School are in the works, this fall the grant will be utilized to bring laboratory activities to North Panola High School students in Batesville.