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Farragut High School Seniors Mentored by ORNL Scientists in ORISE/ORNL Pilot Program

March 8, 2007

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—Eddie Buehler will graduate from Farragut High School in Knoxville this spring with the kind of real-world experience some graduate students would be jealous of. Buehler, along with ten fellow FHS seniors, completed a unique pilot program offered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as part of the ORISE Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) program. HERE seeks to connect students with valuable research opportunities that they may build upon as they continue with education.

The students, all enrolled in advanced placement or honors courses in science, math and/or engineering, were invited to complete research projects in everything from computer science to nuclear science under the direction of ORNL mentors.

“My research project helped me figure out what I want to focus on,” said Jian Zhang, one of Buehler’s classmates who plans to study electrical engineering in college. Zhang says that his experience working with control systems at the Spallation Neutron Source reinforced that desire. “Right now I’m getting a preview of electrical engineering for college, and I’m figuring out the specific kinds of research I want to work on.”

Buehler’s experience also refined his interests and goals for the future. Buehler worked in ORNL’s Materials Science Division, observing atoms interact and move with each other in molecular dynamic simulation. Now he plans on pursuing a research career in the related field of chemical engineering. “I didn’t know anything about this field before I went through the program,” he says, “but it’s definitely something I’m in to.”

Group photo of Farragut High School students

Back row, left to right: Kristin Baksa, Farragut High School advisor; students Sarah Kortebein, Eddie Buehler, Ding Ma, Ben Pierce, Adam Pharr and Jian Zhang; Jane Skinner, Farragut High School advisor, and Linda Holmes, ORISE group manager. Front row, left to right: Cheryl Terry, ORISE project manager, and students Jessica Feng, Erin Groh, Joseph Schmidt, Kenny Jacobs and Richard Lo.
High-resolution version of photo

“It’s a real confidence builder,” Kristin Baska, Farragut High School advisor, says of the program. “These students will already know what’s being talked about when they walk into their college research classes. The networking they’re doing is also a big deal. They’re making valuable contacts for their future careers.”

During the four-month program, students spent between two and eight hours of class time each week at the lab researching projects in fields such as biosciences, fusion energy, and nuclear science and technology, all while earning school credit. Findings from the students’ research projects were presented at a poster session held at the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies building at ORNL at the end of the program. The session was in conjunction with a poster session for ORISE’s post-graduate research program, which offers research opportunities for post-graduate students looking to fulfill their degree requirements.

According to ORISE group manager Linda Holmes, the pilot program was deemed a success by all involved, and the ORNL mentors were asked to be members of an advisory board to provide input on more formally organizing the program for the coming academic year. Holmes noted that the program would be expanded to include other area high schools next year.

ORISE is a U.S. Department of Energy institute focusing on scientific initiatives to research health risks from occupational hazards, assess environmental cleanup, respond to radiation medical emergencies, support national security and emergency preparedness, and educate the next generation of scientists. ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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