The scientific discovery process comes alive for 70 minority students each year at Uniondale High School in New York where students have won top awards for “in-house” projects. Uniondale High School is in a middle-income school district where over 95% of students are from minority groups. Founded in 2000, the Uniondale High School Research Program has grown to 70 students per year who are engaged in multiyear research projects developed using their own creativity and ingenuity (Cassese 2005; Hildebrand 2003, 2006). Students develop projects from an original idea that interests them, design the methodology, implement it, present results in written and oral form at competitions and conferences, and propose and conduct further studies. The Uniondale program advisor and external mentors guide young investigators in “doing science” by instructing them in techniques, research ethics, and scientific integrity (NAS 1995), and advising students while they prepare research papers and presentations.
New York Secretary of State, Randy
A. Daniels (second from right), joined
students as an honored guest at the
8th Annual Symposium on the South
Shore Estuary at Dowling College.
Daniels encouraged students to go to
college to continue their studies and to
give back to their communities the
benefits of their education.
A successful program
The Uniondale High School Research Program is successful because of careful recruitment; research projects that are devised by students; and recognition by the school, community, and outside entities. Student curiosity in, enthusiasm for, and commitment to the process of scientific discovery is paramount in the selection process. These qualities are a prerequisite for development of novel student-created research projects. With expert guidance by the program advisor and mentors, students learn to think like scientists. Throughout the program it is important to maintain enthusiasm for the discovery process, build a sense of community, and let students have fun.
The recruitment process is crucial to building and sustaining a successful research program (Figure 1). Approximately 20 ninth graders are selected each year (see Figure 1 for more details on who recommends them); those who are accepted are expected to continue for the full four years. The program is not limited to or targeted at honors students, but rather is directed at students who are curious and excited by scientific discovery. A key to success is making sure that students and parents know what they are getting into and are dedicated to the requirements. Researchers are aware that doing science requires intense commitment and a work schedule that is often dictated by the experiments rather than by the dinner hour, and parents and students must be made aware of this to avoid conflicts and disillusionment. Individual student/parent/program advisor conferences answer questions and ascertain the commitment of both students and parents.
|Figure 1. Recruitment and Initiation.|
||Students entering ninth grade are recommended by junior high science teachers and a guidance counselor. Students must have a minimum 85% science average and an 80% overall average.|
||A student/parent conference with a Science Research Program Advisor explains the requirements, demands, and rewards.|
||This is required of all incoming students AND parents.|
||The program occurs during one period every regular school day in the Research Lab room. Students receive one honors credit per year as a science elective, and a letter grade appears on their transcript. Students may also work on projects at lunch, after school, and during the summer. Open door policy supervised by faculty mentor.|
|Freshmen are introduced to research through Science Research: A Modular Approach (Farmer 1995). The first two weeks are devoted to comprehensive lab safety training by the program advisor, especially the OSHA Laboratory Standard.|
||Ninth graders perform an elementary science project in the first weeks to understand the various concepts of experimental design.|
Research is conducted in-house at the Uniondale High School Research Lab located in a former home economics/child development room. The lab uses standard glassware, equipment, and supplies that are available for all science classes. Uniondale also provides an annual budget for purchases specific to student projects; over a few years this has established a good infrastructure of equipment for a variety of projects. A few advanced students use equipment and facilities at Dowling College, SUNY College at Old Westbury, and other nearby colleges to augment their projects. Some have been invited to conduct their research at prestigious colleges throughout the United States, but the emphasis is on in-house research.
At the beginning of ninth grade, novice researchers use a research manual to guide them (Farmer 1995). Research and mentoring is a multitiered, multifeedback process (Figure 2). Good mentoring has been shown to increase retention of minority students in science (Anderson and Dongbin 2006), and characteristics of good mentors for undergraduates (HHMI 2004) translate well to high school. Some of the older students serve as lab managers to assist younger students with experimental design and purchasing materials.
|Figure 2. Research and Mentoring.|
|Selection of project
- Review scientific literature via the internet and peer-reviewed journals.
- Examine abstracts of previous competitions and conferences.
- Visit websites of academic professionals in their area of interest.
|Guidance in development of research plan
- Review handbooks and manuals on experimental design in the Research Lab Library (Adams 2003; Barker 1998; Farmer 1995; Keppel 1991; Valiela 2001).
- After completing literature searches, meet with the program advisor to help develop the plan.
- Present several drafts of the plan until one is accepted for experimentation.
- Investigate safety aspects of the proposed materials.
- Place purchase orders.
|Selection of mentor
- Contact recognized experts in the field and enlist the advice and mentorship of a journal article author by e-mail.
|How students are guided in research projects
- Correspond with their external mentor at least once every two weeks to describe progress and ask for comments.
- Attend one-on-one biweekly conferences with the program advisor.
- Under guidance of the program advisor and the school statistics teacher, develop working knowledge of statistics and show rationale for the type of hypothesis testing used. Statistics is a co-requisite course by 11th grade; crucial, yet often deficient or lacking in many high school science projects.
|New questions raised
- Project continued next year by same student or new students in subsequent year(s). Students may work on a different project each year, but most continue a project for more than one year.
An important aspect of the program enables students to have the most current feedback on their proposed projects: Find a practicing scientist mentor who works in the forefront of their area of study. The external mentors help the project move forward through phone and e-mail communication and student visits to the scientist’s laboratory. Many students maintain contact with their mentors after high school graduation, and some have continued research in college that is related to their high school project. Judges and reviewers of Uniondale research projects often comment on the thoroughness of the data and statistical analyses, especially for the multiyear projects. This is a direct consequence of the recruitment, orientation, and mentoring process that lays the foundation for a successful research experience.
Uniondale High School students
discuss their research with Dr. Kwesi
Amoa (Medgar Evers College, CUNY)
at the 9th Annual Symposium on the
South Shore Estuary at Dowling
College. Dowling College Office of
Public relations is often overlooked, but very important in sustaining the program (Figure 3). Articles in the school paper; press releases to media; presentations at school board meetings; a trophy case; informing governmental agencies and civic organizations of practical applications of the projects that may be of interest to them; and hosting annual research symposia, banquets, and other special events are keys to maintaining enthusiasm and support for the program. The Research Lab displays photos and has several scrapbooks with newspaper articles and memorabilia documenting the program’s successes. This type of recognition fosters a spirit of community, collaboration, and teamwork that makes students feel proud to be part of this special group and inspires them to keep up the great work. Alongside the athletic trophy cases in the main school lobby is a case displaying trophies, awards, medals, plaques, and photos that give the program the recognition and esteem it deserves. When decision makers are aware of great outcomes and successes, they are more likely to spare the program when the budget axe is wielded.
|Figure 3. Recognition and Dissemination.|
||Twenty-page scholarly research paper using APA method of citation.|
||Lab meetings once a month for students to present current state of projects. Paper presented at an internal symposium for critical review and analysis by peers and program advisor.|
|Poster and paper presentations
||Numerous local, national, and international science competitions such as LISEF, NYSEF, ISEF, LI Science Congress, INTEL, Dowling College, Manhattanville College, Molloy College.|
||Showcases the accomplishments of research students, recognizes mentors for their roles with the presentation of “Research Hero” plaques, parents are commended for their support, school administrators make presentations.|
||Place in a prominent location in the school lobby. Also display articles, press releases, and photos.|
Presenting their work
At the Dowling College Annual Symposium On the South Shore Estuary, the research poster session provides an opportunity for students to present their work to and interact with scientists who not only judge their posters, but are permitted to give students feedback on their projects and make suggestions for further study. All Uniondale students present their environmental science projects at the symposium. “On the South Shore Estuary,” refers to Dowling’s location on the estuary and the fact that the invited scientists give presentations about the estuary. Students have often commented that this is a valuable interaction that they do not experience at most competitions. Other aspects that students find helpful is the review and commentary by mathematics professors regarding their statistics and data presentation, and the workshops and scientific presentations by practicing scientists from government, academia, and industry. This model emulates the collegial atmosphere in which scientists regularly present their work, and high school researchers benefit greatly from such interactions. In some cases, students have continued their projects with scientists they met at the symposium.
Several areas of research have been particularly popular with Uniondale students (Figure 4, p. 32), and this allows specialized equipment purchased for a project in one year to be used by others in subsequent years. Students tend to pursue projects that have practical applications (Wilkinson 2003; Zaikowski et al. 2003), and some results can be or have been successfully implemented in the community, such as reduction of storm water runoff contaminants; heavy metal remediation with plant hyper accumulators; wetland restoration; improved fertilizers; and the South Shore Estuary Watch.
|Figure 4. Selected Themes and Projects.|
|“All in The Family: Using Phylogenetic Systematics to Develop a Family of Arsenic Hyperaccumulators” |
“Ancestry By Sound: Tracing the Evolutionary Links of Hyla Species Using Bioacoustics”
||“Revisiting An Old Friend: Developing a New Activated Carbon From Sustainable Materials” |
“Get Out Pollution: A Novel Approach to Bioventing”
|Natural pesticides, fertilizers, stabilizers, and products
||“Not in My Backyard: The Environmental Advantages of Applying Allelopathy to Weed Management”|
“Allelopathy in Sorghum: An Analysis of the Chemical Nature and Inhibition Potential of an Allelotoxin Synthesized by Sorghum Bicolor”
“Greener Than Green: A Novel Approach to the Use of Natural Substances as Plant Growth Regulators in the Family Poaceae”
“Land Stabilization: Utilization of Cryptobiotic Soil to Revitalize Sensitive Ecosystem Integrity”
“There’s a Fungus Among Us: The Use of Specialized Mycorrhizal Fungi to Enhance Agricultural Productivity”
“A New Source of Antibiotics from the African Clawed Frog”
“The Green Machine: A New Method for Hydrogen Production from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii”
“A New Approach to Preventing Decomposition of Mushrooms by Trichoderma”
“The Long and Short of It: A Study on Plant Stem Elongation in Rice, Oryza sativa L.”
“Creating Agricultural Growth Medium From Organic and Inorganic Waste Material”
|Navigation, communication, behavior, and symbiosis
||“Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Determination of Navigational Skills in Short-Lived Insects”|
“Look Who’s Talking: Bio-Acoustics in Gryllus Crickets”
“Bully Behavior: Determining the Purpose of Aggressive Behaviors in Cichlidae”
“Searching for the Intelligent Earthworm: A Study Into the Cognitive Abilities of Lumbricus Terrestris”
“Entering The Rhizosphere: How Beneficial are Mycorrhizal Interactions?”
|“Will There Be Clean Water for Our Children?: A Modern Way to Alleviate Salt Water Intrusion and Reclaim Soil” |
“Multivariate Statistical Analysis of Soil and Water Contamination Due to Branta canadensis Droppings”
“The Hormesis Phenomenon: Implications of Low Dose Harmful Agents to Stimulate Plant Growth”
“Comparison of Chemical and Biological Approaches to Combating Eutrophication”
“The Truth About EMF: A Novel Method to Determine Species Mortality in the Presence of Electromagnetic Radiation”
“Do Rhizobacteria Have Increased Resistance to Antimicrobial Chemicals After Acid Rain Exposure?”
“Rising From the Ashes: Healing Drought-Stricken Plants Via Natural Plant Growth Substances”
Benefits to the next generation and society
The research experience makes a profound difference in the lives of all who participate. About 95% of participating students go on to college to study science, and those who do not study science gain important life skills that serve them well in all walks of life. As they plan, carry out, analyze, and present their experiments, they learn critical-thinking, writing, oral, reading, mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Students benefit directly by winning monetary awards and other prizes at competitions, gaining admission to top colleges, earning college scholarships, and presenting their work at national scientific meetings. They gain confidence in themselves and discover their potential as their work is recognized by professionals. The incredible feeling of accomplishment and success inspires students to continue and reach new heights. Earning awards such as Best in the World at ISEF, the Stockholm Jr. Water Prize, the Glenn T. Seaborg Award, NAACP Regional Competition Gold Medal/National Finalist, and being INTEL finalists and semifinalists has helped Uniondale minority students get scholarships to top colleges and entrance to highly selective programs that may have otherwise been out of reach. The investment in good research programs can produce monetary and other outcomes for students and society now and in the future.
A student presents his research
“Controlling Phosphate Eutrophication:
A Novel Method to Reclaiming
Estuarine Waters” at the 9th Annual
Symposium on the South Shore
Estuary at Dowling College. Dowling
College Office of Public Relations
Although the most important key to success is a dedicated teacher (preferably a full-time program advisor), any teacher can replicate this program by guiding students in developing projects that use standard materials and equipment available in the school. [Editor’s note: Click here for tips on how to gain funding for a project like this.] Aquaria tanks, microscopes, a plant growing chamber, and inexpensive spectrometers and probes, for example, have been the heart of several multiyear projects at Uniondale. Probeware sensors are a practical alternative to more costly investments, and probeware measurements correlate well with parallel data collected with more expensive instruments for fluorescence, spectroscopy, pH, dissolved oxygen, colorimetry, light intensity, conductivity, and temperature. Teachers will be most effective if they take refresher courses in research methods and instrumental analysis and focus initially on related projects in their area(s) of expertise. Such project-oriented research is perhaps the best model of scientific inquiry as it enables students to collaboratively explore complementary aspects of an area of investigation, much as practicing scientists do.
Lori Zaikowski (zaikowsL@dowling.edu) is an associate professor of chemistry and natural sciences and chemistry department chair in the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York; Paul Lichtman (email@example.com) is Science Research Program Advisor at Uniondale High School in Uniondale, New York; Duncan Quarless (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate professor of chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at SUNY College at Old Westbury in Old Westbury, New York.
The authors would like to thank Uniondale Central School District Administration for having the foresight and vision to establish and sustain a research program in these days when budgets are under intense scrutiny and pressure. Thanks also to Dowling College who provided Lori Zaikowski with Release Time for Professional Development to mentor student research projects and prepare this article. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 03-35799 awarded to Dowling College.
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Anderson, E.L., and K. Dongbin. 2006. Increasing the success of minority students in science and technology. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Barker, K. 1998. At the bench: A laboratory navigator. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
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Hildebrand, J. 2003. “Putting Down Roots on Long Island.” Newsday, January 16, pp. A1, A7.
Hildebrand, J. 2006. “Uniondale Reaps Fruits of Agriscience Project.” Newsday, November 9, p. A7.
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Zaikowski, L., P. Lichtman, V. King, and K. Ramjeawan. 2003. Keys to building a successful high school research program with practical chemical applications. American Chemical Society 226th National Meeting, New York.