Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives


Stepping into Science

  • News Image
    Chemistry Professor Maha Zewail-Foote stands with some of the students participating in the STEP program this summer. (Photo by Kristen McLaughlin)
  • News Image
    Biochemistry majors Adam Shaikh and Jace Venters (right) work with students participating in the STEP program. At left are Stephanie Teo, Ben Gil and Daniel Nguyen. (Photo by Kristen McLaughlin)

High school students participate in new summer program at Southwestern

Walk into the Fondren-Jones Science Building any weekday this summer, and you would never know it is summer break. Aspiring scientists are conducting research and working in labs throughout the building.

Advanced science students from eight area high schools have stepped into labs at Southwestern to participate in the new Science Training and Education Program (STEPS). The program is being funded by a $443,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which is being divided between STEPS and two other programs.

STEPS is a free five-week non-residential program directed and designed by Emily Niemeyer, professor of chemistry. Other Southwestern faculty members are teaching classes and including the students in their research. Two chemistry majors from the Class of 2011 − Tammy Nguyen and Matthew Dorris − are serving as coordinators for the program, and current science majors from Southwestern are serving as mentors to the high school students. 

“I think it is good for the high school students to see what it is like and get more of an idea of what they want to major in,” Nguyen said.

The high school students are on a rotating research schedule, learning about chemistry, biology, physics and animal behavior. In addition to getting exposure to advanced math and science, they are learning about college preparation, research and working as a team. They have been participating in daily group activities led by the undergraduate mentors and the Southwestern faculty members.

“The students are really enthusiastic about science. They are choosing to take a big part of their summer to come and spend their day learning about science,” Niemeyer said. “It’s been really fun and I think it’s been great for our students and faculty to interact with the high school students.”

Southwestern faculty members who are teaching classes to the STEPS participants include Alison Marr, Willis Weigand, Linda Southwick, Kendall Richards and Nick Courtright. Faculty members who are mentoring the students on research include Emily Niemeyer, Willis Weigand, Kerry Bruns, Maha Foote, Gulnar Rawji, Martín Gonzalez, Stephen Alexander and Jesse Purdy. Many of the undergraduate students serving as mentors are participants in the Welch Summer Research Program, funded by the Robert A. Welch Foundation of Houston.

Niemeyer said the main purpose of STEPS is to provide high school students with a feel for what it is like to major in science in college. Instructors also hope that at least some of the 13 high school participants may consider attending Southwestern.

 “As we work with them more and more, we develop an attachment to them. They are all excellent students and we would love to see them go to school here,” Niemeyer said.

The grant funds the STEPS program for three years, starting with this year. The program began June 6 and will conclude July 8 with a celebration for students and their families at which the students will present scientific posters based on the research they conducted during the STEPS program.


−Kristen McLaughlin