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Summer internship turns cutting-edge science into full-time job for high school students

July 7, 2016

2015 summer interns launch rocket with Space@VT
Students participating in the 2015 High-Performance Computing in the Medical Sciences program prepare to launch a rocket with faculty mentors from Virginia Tech's Center for Space Science and Engineering Research.

To many high schoolers, rocket launches, outdoor excursions, and ideas brought to life in a 3-D printer may sound like the ingredients for an ideal vacation. For 16 young men and women from the Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News, Virginia, however, they are the elements for a one-of-a-kind summer internship.

Over the course of an intensive, two-week program beginning on July 10, students in the Biocomplexity Institute’s High-Performance Computing in the Medical Sciences program will engage in immersive learning activities led by a host of Virginia Tech science faculty members.

“The diversity and depth of experiences our students are exposed to at Virginia Tech is something we just can’t re-create in a conventional classroom setting,” said Jonothan Lister, math department lead at Achievable Dream. “Our students get to follow ‘big ideas’ through different settings and points of view — an afternoon that begins with an introduction to engineering through full-size race cars can end exploring video games that simulate the construction of new roads.” 

The unique structure of this summer internship is designed to remove obstacles that discourage many first-generation college students from pursuing careers in scientific research.

“Support from the National Science Foundation allows these students to make learning their full-time job for two weeks out of the summer,” said Kristy Collins, senior project associate for education and outreach at the Biocomplexity Institute.  “They’re fully embedded in a scientific community, experiencing research that touches the activities they love and the problems they want to solve.”

This mission reflects a broader commitment to build diversity and cross-disciplinary collaboration into Virginia Tech’s learning communities. These values are emphasized in the university’s signature educational initiatives, such as InclusiveVT and the College Access Collaborative.

“We’re challenging every member of our university to rethink the ways science can be applied to solve real-world problems,” said Karen Eley Sanders, Virginia Tech’s associate vice provost for college access. “Learning experiences like this summer program make hands-on/minds-on opportunities happening throughout the institution immediately accessible to students, introducing them to academic role models, enhancing their curiosity, and helping them believe that they can succeed.”

Participants in the 2016 program will work with experts from a broad range of academic divisions and local nonprofits, including the Virginia Tech Carlion School of Medicine, College of Natural Resources and Environment, School of Architecture + Design, and Let’s Code Blacksburg. At the end of these activities, students will have an opportunity to share what they’ve learned with the entire Virginia Tech community through a series of public presentations at the Biocomplexity Institute conference center on July 22 at 9 a.m.

“Several of these students have already committed to starting their college careers here in the fall,” said Collins. “This is a great opportunity for people across the university to hear from the next generation of innovators at Virginia Tech.”

Written by Dan Rosplock.

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