Emilie Trenhs has spent her last two summers at Florida International University dissecting pig hearts and studying the interaction of light with living organisms. It might seem like a typical path for someone like Trenhs, who wants to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. But what stands out is that she is a high school student.
Trenhs – along with undergraduate and graduate students, high school students, and several high school science and engineering teachers – presented her work at the culminating event – the 2nd Annual Summer Research Symposium for Summer Research Participants in the FIU College of Engineering and Informatics. The program is sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Student Success (CD-SSEC).
“This program is not just an academic exercise,” says Darryl Dickerson, PhD, director of Workforce Development for CELL MET, a program mentor and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “It is an exercise that has the ability to change one’s life. By opening our doors to a wider community, we give participants a better understanding of what it’s like to do high-quality research. By doing so, we hope to inspire a more diverse group to enter the field.”
Like Trenhs, Nya Martin has also spent the past two summers in the lab. A junior at FIU, the biomedical engineering major is also part of the Florida Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Populations (FGLSAMP) and is a National Council for Minority Action in Education (NACME) Scholar. Summer research has helped her learn the intricacies of laboratory protocol and how to better conduct literature searches.
“These are important skills in STEM and for graduate school,” explains Martin, who would one day like to create low-cost prosthetic devices for those in need. “When I started the program, I was worried that I wasn’t qualified and that I didn’t know enough. But that’s why we’re here. My mentors have been great teachers.”
Both Trenhs and Martin came to the research program through the Engineering Research Center’s (ERC) Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Unserved Populations (PATHS-UP) program, a paid summer research experience funded by the National Science Foundation. PATHS UP is offered at FIU, Rice University, UCLA and flagship institution Texas A&M University. Other participants came through CELL MET, STROBE, PRECISE, ASTERIX, WE-FOCUS and other programs that provide research opportunities in various technological areas.
“These are high-achieving students,” says Andrew Green, associate director of CD-SSEC. “They have their projects with results. They attend laboratory meetings and work collaboratively. They also participate in workforce development, such as scholarly communication skills, youth writing, diversity and inclusion workshops, and the art of applying to graduate school.
This past summer, Martin worked with the CELL MET program. A student at Hialeah Gardens High School, she is also in the Florida Action for Minorities in Engineering (FLAME) dual enrollment program at FIU.
“The summer experience is very beneficial because everyone here is invested in what they are doing, it is a very professional atmosphere. “When the people you’re working with are passionate about what they’re doing, you learn so much,” she says.
As president of her school’s Society of Women Engineers and Society of Technology Students clubs, she also appreciates that her high school engineering teacher, Alex Garrido, has participated in the teacher’s side of the summer research experience many times. .
“High school teachers are doing thorough, hands-on research over the summer and learning more about how they can incorporate what they’ve learned into their classrooms,” Green says. FIU also engages with young South Florida students through Engineers on Wheels, which brings FIU engineering students into K-12 classrooms to expose kids to STEM careers and partners with local schools for other internship opportunities summer.
At the 2nd Annual Summer Research Symposium, attendees perused poster exhibits showcasing work ranging from medical device development to wireless power transfer systems. They also presented their projects and answered questions from researchers, scientists and researchers.
The application process varies for individual programs and is competitive. If you are interested in participating, contact Green at [email protected]
– By Adrienne Sylver