This summer, a group of eager Philadelphia high school students interested in pursuing engineering in college got the chance at a bit of a head start, thanks to a new research and mentorship program.
The partnership between the Temple University College of Engineering and Steppingstone Scholars welcomed 17 high school students to engineering labs over July and August for a paid research experience. The aim, according to Jeremy Heyman of Steppingstone Scholars, was to open pathways to future opportunities and forge meaningful relationships between high school and college students.
"Steppingstone's mission is to create access to educational and career opportunities for talented, underserved Philadelphia students, combating systemic racial and socioeconomic inequality," Heyman said. "Our work on this summer project with Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Affairs Shawn Fagan and the College of Engineering fits squarely into this, providing invaluable opportunities for high school students to prepare for pursuing a college engineering major."
Khary Thomas, a sophomore at Imhotep Institute Charter High School, was one of the high school students awarded the opportunity to work with Temple undergraduate and graduate students and research cell and matrix mechanobiology.
"It was just a whole lot of fun," Khary said. "It was a good experience. I even forgot about the money; I was just having fun."
Khary learned "new words, new stuff that [he] didn't even know existed" in Wang's lab. He worked hands-on with cells, learning about the fibronectin matrix and practicing cell culture, with Cydney Young, a junior at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science.
One of the most important outcomes of the experience was the relationships formed between students. While Temple students gained experience in mentorship and strengthened their own engineering skills, they were able to introduce high school students to a brand-new engineering experience, and they had fun while doing it. Khary originally worried about working with college students, but he quickly realized how much fun they were.
He thought they'd be like parents because they were older, but instead, he realized he could joke around with them, have fun and become friends while learning. They formed strong connections that will hopefully continue outside of the lab and create future networking abilities.
Dr. Wang is a bioengineering professor and one of the faculty members who worked with the students.
"We had a great time hosting and mentoring two Steppingstone Scholars this summer," said Dr. Wang. "This was a wonderful opportunity to share our love of science and provide hands-on experiences with the next with the next generation of (hopefully) soon-to-be bioengineers at Temple University."
Khary may be returning as quickly as this Fall semester to continue working with Dr. Wang —with an eye on applying to Temple to study engineering not long after.
"I want to learn more," Khary said. "I'm the person that keeps asking questions."
The program succeeded in allowing students to explore a special field of interest in engineering and build up their STEM skills, as well as create a sense of belonging in higher education that hopefully will further encourage them to pursue a college career.
"I know as a STEM education practitioner and researcher how impactful early research and internship experiences can be, as well as mentorship, to broadening access to STEM careers, and ultimately students' chances of persisting in such majors," Heyman said.