Baylor Departments Provide Unique Research, Hands-On Experience to High School Students

July 1, 2008

by Lauren Venegas, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

Rarely do high school students have a chance to take part in university research, gaining experience through interactive work with professors. Two specific Baylor University programs provide students with such an opportunity.

The High School Summer Science Research Program and the Renaissance Scholar Program are two distinguished programs at Baylor currently underway for high-achieving high school students from across the country.

The High School Summer Science Research Program, held during the first summer academic session, is open to students entering their senior year of high school. The students earn one semester hour of college credit and participate in projects with Baylor professors where they analyze research groups, data, techniques, instruments and interpretations; receive access to Baylor facilities and collaborate with other talented students with related interests. Each student also is awarded a scholarship which covers tuition, a technology fee and on-campus housing.

"Our competitive program is somewhat unique in that the students actually do science rather than learn about it," said Dr. Frank Mathis, director of the High School Summer Science Research Program. "The goal of the program is to encourage young people to pursue careers in the sciences...this year we have 11 students working in biology, biochemistry, physics, engineering, nutrition, geology and mathematics."

Ryan Leigon, a 16-year-old student from Lake Jackson, is a program participant in the mathematics department. He said during a typical project, his mentors will present a topic, give background instruction and then give him an assignment to work on. Some of the projects are short and only take a few hours, while others may take a few days, he said.

"One of the benefits [of the program] is being able to do actual, accessible research," Leigon said. On his search for programs, Leigon said he did not find similar programs touting one-on-one experience at other universities, and he feels that his projects are "something of worth."

Leigon also said that this experience has helped him identify general ideas for a career path, especially in mathematics with an emphasis in numerical analysis. He said he would possibly like to teach and research at the university level.

The Renaissance Scholar Program, another distinguished academic program for high school students, combines topics in engineering and technology with readings in history, art, literature, philosophy and theology through Baylor's Honors College and the nationally-ranked School of Engineering and Computer Science.

The week-long Renaissance Scholar Program could not be described as a typical summer camp, but instead emphasizes a true college experience.

"This program is unique for high school students because it gives them an opportunity to experience college first hand," said Adam Ecklund, a coordinator for the Renaissance Scholar Program. "For example, the students stay in our residence halls and take courses, while also enjoying different activities that the university has to offer, such as bowling, working out at the SLC, movie nights and more."

The Renaissance Scholar Program, like the High School Summer Science Research Program, provides one college credit hour and is highly competitive. "We give top students from around the nation a chance to experience three disciplines of study and Baylor's incredible campus," Ecklund said. "In fact, we are not aware of any other program that exposes [high school] students to such a wide range of disciplines."

The broad spectrum of disciplines are combined through discussion of a variety of topics; literature reading and film; and hands-on learning in design, development, and implementation of two engineering projects focusing on renewable energy.

The Renaissance Scholar Program coordinators believe that it is Baylor's mission and environment that help make their program unique.

"We take our faith in Jesus and integrate it in all that we do," Ecklund said. "It is evident in our technical degrees, in the Honors College and throughout Baylor--this is what makes us stand out."