Aug. 19, 2019

High school students reflect on six weeks of hands-on research in university labs

Youth Research program celebrates 20 years of mentorship

For the past six weeks, 23 UCalgary researchers opened the doors of their laboratories to new members 25 Grade 11 students from across central Alberta.

The University of Calgary welcomed these students to campus as part of the Alberta Innovates Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program, now in its 20th year. Students were embedded in the faculties of arts, nursing, kinesiology, science, veterinary medicine, as well as the Schulich School of Engineering and the Cumming School of Medicine.

Students gained hands-on experience conducting health and biomedical research. “The HYRS program was an opportunity to take a peek into university life, and to become immersed in the world of research,” says Elena Pan, a HYRS participant from Westmount Charter School.

With the guidance of faculty mentors, students conducted a diverse array of health and biomedical research projects from building a computer game to illustrate oncology to paediatric cancer patients (Dr. Christian Jacob, PhD, computer science), to assessing bone marrow fat fraction and fat cell size in a rat model of adolescent obesity (Dr. Walter Herzog, PhD, kinesiology).

HYRS students developed skills that will serve as building blocks should they continue to pursue research in the future. “As my research progressed, I found that my ability to analyze and ultimately understand scientific studies, an important skill in this field of research, drastically improved,” notes Chelsea Wong, a student from West Island College, who worked alongside Dr. Doreen Ezeifein, MD, in the Department of Oncology.

Students applied to participate in the program through a competition application process. In 2019, over 165 students from more than 40 central Alberta high schools applied to the program. The 25 students from this pool of highly qualified applicants were selected by a committee of University of Calgary postdoctoral scholars and Calgary area high school and math teachers.

Students share what they learned at annual open house event

On Aug. 15, students presented the results of the summer research via scientific posters at the annual HYRS open house. The celebration marked the close of the 20th year of the HYRS program at the University of Calgary.

Students speak at open house

HYRS students Pakeeza Mushtaq and Hiten Mahalwar address the audience at the open house.

Riley Brandt

Honourable Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Children’s Services and MLA for Calgary-Shaw, encouraged students to continue pursuing their research, telling them, “We need your talents, we need your skills, we need your passion, we need your curiosity. We need vibrant universities that challenge our assumptions and make the impossible possible, and the invisible visible.”

Pakeeza Mushtaq and Hiten Mahalwar, HYRS students from Brooks Composite High School and John G. Diefenbaker High School respectively, addressed the audience at the open house. “The HYRS program has been valuable to me because instead of learning about concepts from a textbook, I was able to stand at the forefront of knowledge and push it just a little bit further with every experiment that I did,” says Mushtaq.

In addition to conducting hands-on health and biomedical research, HYRS students spent time together as a cohort on a weekly basis. Students toured University of Calgary laboratory facilities and learned from a variety of guest speakers and panelists, including a career panel, a university life panel, instructional workshops on how to create a scientific poster, and more.

“Being a part of a vibrant research community, networking with faculty, and meeting other passionate and driven students has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve gained,” says Elena Pan.

For more information about the HYRS program, please contact Erin O’Toole at rsotrainee@ucalgary.ca. Pending a renewal of program funding, the application for the 2020 cohort will be launched in January 2020.