Perspectives Online

NCSU and NCSSM partnership brings minority high-school students to campus labs for summer research experience


NCSSM students meet with lab mentor Dr. Heather Miller before beginning their biotechnology lab project. Research projects were available to the students in a variety of disciplines, including forensic science, biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology, organic agriculture, plant biology, food science, soil science and natural resources.
Photo by Terri Leith

Two NCSSM students focus on the steps of their experiment during CAALS3D.
Photo by Terri Leith
In mid July, a group of high-school students from Durhamís N.C. School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) came to N.C. State University, donned goggles and gloves and got hands-on laboratory research experience. Activities ranged from live cell imaging to gel electrophesis to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to conducting biochemical tests, among many others.

These opportunities came about as part of a summer research experience called Creating Awareness of Agriculture and Life Science Disciplines, Discoveries and Degrees (CAALS3D). The program is a partnership of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State and the NCSSM. It is designed to introduce minority male high-school students to innovative, high-tech research in the food, agricultural, environmental and life sciences.

An NCSSM student prepares to perform one of many hands-on laboratory experiences available to him during the CAALS3D summer research event at N.C. State.
Photo by Terri Leith
CAALS3D -- initiated, led and coordinated by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and the CALS Diversity Council -- is an outreach effort in collaboration with the NCSU Office of Extension, Engagement and Economic Development; the NCSU Office of Diversity and Inclusion; and the College of Natural Resources Office of Community Diversity.

Unique research opportunities in a variety of different scientific disciplines were made available to 24 NCSSM students who spent July 20 to 23 in laboratories working under the guidance of N.C. State professors and graduate students. The students experienced research in a variety of disciplines, including forensic science, biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology, organic agriculture, plant biology, food science, soil science and natural resources.

On the closing day of the CAALS3D summer research experience, the rising juniors from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics gathered with their N.C. State University hosts and mentors at SAS Hall on the N.C. State campus.
Photo courtesy Lisa Guion
Among faculty members leading hands-on lab experiences were Dr. Jose Bruno-Barcena, microbiology; Dr. Sue Carson, biotechnology; Dr. John Cavanagh, molecular and structural biochemistry; Dr. Brian Farkas, food, processing and nutrition sciences; Dr. Alexandria Graves, soil science; Dr. Julie Grossman, soil science; Dr. Marcela Rojas-Pierce, plant biology; Dr. Ann Ross, sociology and anthropology; and Dr. Stacy Nelson, College of Forestry and Natural Resources.

During the closing session of the CAALS3D program, the NCSSM students presented research posters and PowerPoint presentations providing detailed accounts of the research they experienced during the week. Specifically, the young men answered the following questions: What was the research about? Why is the research being done? What is being examined? What research questions or hypothesis are we trying to answer or test? How was the experiment designed? What were the results or findings of the experiment? What did you learn? What interested and/or excited you?

Dr. Jose Bruno-Barcena (center) assists two students in his Gardner Hall microbiology lab.
Photo courtesty Lisa Guion
NCSSM was the nationís first public high school to offer a specialized curriculum in science and math for high school juniors and seniors, said Dr. Lisa Guion, CALS associate professor of agricultural and extension education. Guion said that American colleges and universities have found it difficult to recruit and retain minorities, particularly minority males, to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The CAALS3D program targets male African-American, Latino and Native American students who will be juniors at NCSSM this fall. The program is designed to capitalize on the interest and exceptional academic abilities that these young men have already exhibited in STEM by providing them with opportunities to conduct research with top university scientists, Guion said. Through a five year Memorandum of Understanding between NCSU and NCSSM, the CAALS3D program will continue to provide additional opportunities during the school year and summer for these talented students.

The closing session featured presentations by the student participants describing their research experiences.
Photo courtesy Lisa Guion
Dr. Sue Carson assists two NCSSM students in a lab experience.
Photo by Terri Leith