Time for labs

COLUMBIA -- Twenty-five years ago, it might have been rare to see a high-school student working shoulder-to-shoulder with a professional scientist in a laboratory.

Today, take a walk around the Clemson and USC campuses, and you'll find more than one high school student wearing latex gloves and a lab coat.

Nearly 80 high-school students are participating in the six-week Summer Program for Research Interns, in which they'll look for cures for diseases, track weather patterns and learn about insect immune systems.

An outreach leg of the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, the program is offered to the school's rising seniors and to students statewide.

Participants are paired with scientists in research and development labs around the state based on their interests.

Officials said the nearly 20-year-old program is a win-win situation. Students get real-life lab experience, while scientists get extra researchers on ongoing science projects.

"I feel like I am really doing stuff that is going to help people and help the science community," said Latoya Dixon, 17, a rising senior in the two-year residential program at the governor's school.

She's spending her summer studying the effect of earthquakes and other natural disasters on buildings.

Dixon hopes her research will help engineers construct buildings that can better withstand damage.

That's more than what she expected of her researching abilities, she said, on her first day in the lab a month ago.

"On my first day as a high school student, I didn't know how much I could contribute," she said.

Program director Randy La Cross said the scientists who volunteer as mentors also find themselves pleasantly surprised.

"Once we get a student or two into a scientist's lab, they're (able to see) the quality of work they're capable of doing as a high-school student."

More than 60 S.C. scientists serve as mentors in the program, including DeAnna Beasley, a USC graduate student paired with Dutch Fork High student Eliza Stucker, 17.

Stucker applied to the program as one of the 15 non-governor's school students admitted as summer interns.

In the lab, Beasley said the research team is constantly brainstorming ideas as they study different types of cockroaches and their immune systems.

"It's great working with her," Beasley said. "She's very excited. She's very helpful."

She hopes to turn this research into a published paper in a scientific journal. Stucker will be named as one of the authors.

Stucker said being a published author would be amazing, especially since she's still in high school.

"It would be nice to have research experience (on college applications.)"

The summer internship, Stucker said, gives students a better idea of what they want when they graduate from high school.

"It's turned me on to (considering) a college with a good research facilities."