Where am I?
Learning through Field Research
Pictured: Ben Banet '14 – second from left, top row in the red shirt – with a research group in the SIFT Program at Shaw Nature Preserve.
Each year SLUH scholars collaborate with research experts and peers from other high schools to learn through hands-on research programs. This summer several Jr. Bills took advantage of research programs in partnership with Washington University and the Missouri Botanical Gardens to further their study in medicine and field biology.
Ben Banet '14 and David Ayeke '13 are just two examples of SLUH students who participated in unique research opportunities with top research experts from notable institutions. Banet took part in the SIFT Program (Shaw Institute for Field Training, a partnership between Washington University and the Missouri Botanical Gardens), and Ayeke participated in ASPIRE (Advanced Summer Program for Investigation and Research Education, a program at Washington University Medical Center).
They talk about their experiences and what they learned in the following Q&As.
Ben Banet '14 – SIFT
Q. Can you describe SIFT and what you did through this program?
A. The SIFT Program is a partnership between Washington University and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It receives funding from the National Science Foundation and allows high schoolers to work with Washington University professors and graduate students on research projects. There's a wide range of students from across St. Louis participating.
In June, we completed a week-long training session at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit. We learned a lot about Missouri's different ecosystems and habitats such as wetlands, prairies, forests, glades, and riparian corridors. We visited those different areas at Shaw and learned plant and animal identification. We also learned how to measure water quality in aquatic ecosystems by measuring factors like dissolved oxygen, nitrates, turbidity, temperature, pH and pOH, as well as sampling aquatic life like tadpoles, crayfish, snails, dragonfly nymphs, and salamanders.
After the June training session, I've been able to help out on three projects with Washington University professors. One included studying the effects of various prairie management techniques on invasive species by weighing the amounts of different species in a plot. Another entailed measuring the effects of fire on prairies by collecting seed pods from native plants. I also completed a day of water quality monitoring in the Meramec River and Brush Creek with the Shaw Nature Reserve Stream Team.
There are four other SIFT events this year. We'll have a GIS training session at Washington University, two Saturday sessions at Shaw, and an overnight weekend at Shaw.
Q. What have you learned through SIFT?
A. I've learned a lot about field biology and research in the SIFT program. I love being outside and learning about science so it was a lot of fun to combine those two interests. It was also good to get real life experience in the life of a field researcher. It'll also help me narrow down options for potential college and career choices.
David Ayeke ’13 – ASPIRE
(In addition to ASPIRE, Ayeke has participated with six other Jr. Bills in the Ferring Scholars Program, a collaboration with the Washington University Medical Center that provides healthcare and biomedical research opportunities with top research experts.)
Q. Can you describe ASPIRE and what you did through this program?
A. ASPIRE is an opportunity at Washington University that offers junior and senior high school students along with college students full-time clinical research. The program is six weeks for high school students and eight weeks for college students. Along with research, participants also enrolled in a basic clinical research class and a basic statistics class. The program provided a stipend.
I worked with Dr. Jose Pineda (my mentor for the Ferring Scholars Program as well) processing data for a study on pediatric traumatic brain injury. I was also the first author for the research manuscript on the study; the manuscript is under review by Dr. Pineda and a few others. My study used Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (a way to measure the concentrations of several brain metabolites) to measure the concentration of N-acetlyaspartate (NAA) in an injured child at the time of injury. Then over three months and 12 months we would measure the concentration of NAA to see if it recovered, decreased, or stayed the same. Since NAA is produced by mitochondria in neurons, only dead neurons do not produce it. So if any neurons recovered, NAA concentrations would recover as well. If more neurons died, NAA decreased. If nothing changed, NAA stayed the same.
Q. What did you learn through ASPIRE? Will this affect your career path?
A. The Aspire program was an incredible opportunity. I was able to meet several doctors like Dr. Jay Piccirillo who led the program and attended several seminars ranging from how to give a good presentation to how to become successful at medical research. In addition, I was able to become first author on a research paper before I even graduated from high school.
The part of the program that affected me the most was visiting the pICU to see children with severe traumatic brain injury patients. If you do enough medical research, you begin to see all patients as numbers. When you see a six-year old child connected to 200 pounds of machinery to keep him alive, you realize that the goal of research is to better help children like him. It meant a lot to me as I have always wanted to be a doctor, but seeing actual patients reinforced my vocation.
It has been my dream since elementary school to be a neurosurgeon. I always wanted see how it worked. I’ve been involved with medicine for just as long, and through medicine I met Dr. Michael Debaun, a SLUH grad, through the Ferring Scholars Program. I’m also passionate about computer software, and I like to program or do computer modeling/animation. I’ve taken computer classes like C++, Java, and Game Programming at SLUH . Right now, I’m applying to colleges that are ranked highly in medicine and computer science. Washington University and MIT are my big choices.
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