With no fanfare Ball High School and UTMB have been collaborating for three years on a program that might be the only one of its kind in the nation.
For the past 16 years the medical branch has opened the doors of its research labs to a select group of high-achieving juniors and seniors from Ball High School chosen to participate in a yearlong Scientific Research and Design Independent Study course.
But when the Galveston National Laboratory’s biosafety level 4 suite came online three years ago all of a sudden it meant the high school students in the independent study program had a chance to work on research projects involving pathogens requiring the maximum containment levels available.
“Since UTMB’s national laboratory is virtually the only facility of its kind in the country on a university campus this may very well be the only opportunity in the U.S. for high school students to do research at this level,” said UTMB’s Lauren Scott director of educational outreach for the Community Outreach and Engagement Core.
“Since it’s the only national lab of any type in Texas the program is certainly one-of-a-kind in the state,” said Eleanor Pate Ball Prep science teacher and the Ball High School instructor for the Research and Design program. “This really sets the students apart from millions of other high school students applying for college and scholarships.”
The high school students actually do not go into the high-level containment labs but their mentors do.
Their research ranges from virology projects in the Galveston National Laboratory to seafood contamination studies in the Center in Environmental Toxicology to human muscle metabolism and exercise during blood-flow restriction in the School of Health Professions Department of Nutrition and Metabolism.
To apply students must be ranked in the top 50 of their class must be able to provide their own transportation to UTMB must have seventh and eighth periods available in their upcoming year’s schedule must be 16 at the start of the school year and must turn in an application that includes a personal essay and teacher recommendations by the deadline date.
The program, also known as the Bench Tutorials Program, is administered by UTMB’s Center in Environmental Toxicology’s Community Outreach and Engagement Core and the Sealy Center for Environmental Health.
The program was founded to offer dedicated and academically talented high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge scientific research. Each high school student is paired with a UTMB graduate student or postdoctoral fellow mentor with guidance from a faculty adviser. Each mentor designs a research project relating to the larger research framework within the laboratory forecasting completion by the year’s end.
Funded in its early years by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ pilot program and the Sealy Center for Environmental Health and Medicine the Research and Design Independent Study program also is supported by a continuing trust fund from the Dr. Leon Bromberg Charitable Trust Fund.