Grant provides hands-on STEM experience for high schoolers

hands doing lab work

With a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Wake Forest University will be able to provide hands-on opportunities for high school students in Forsyth County to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies and related careers.

The Wake Forest LEAP (Lab Experiences: Academics and Professions) program, which will be located at Wake Forest University, will target students from local Title 1 schools. 

The funds will be used to launch a long-term, paid, lab-based summer internship program for high school students. Rather than earning money in more traditional high school summer jobs, students accepted to the program will have a paid summer experience that directly links to a desired career. 

Over six weeks, students will 

  • work in a lab setting with two Wake Forest co-mentors;
  • learn about the principles of the scientific method, how to maintain a lab notebook, fundamental lab safety, and use of specialized instrumentation; and 
  • develop and complete a project that will be shared at the end of the summer in a symposium attended by all participating interns, their mentors and their families.

Interns will also attend workshops on college and career readiness hosted by Wake Forest’s Office of Personal and Career Development. When not working in their lab, students will participate in activities designed to build their professional networks and help them to become more comfortable and confident in interview settings.

“We’re excited to offer paid summer lab internships for local high school students,” said Associate Dean for Research and Community Engagement and Director of Wake Downtown Rebecca Alexander. We know there is a need for hands-on STEM activities at the high school level, and we’re eager to connect with local students who are curious about careers in STEM but haven’t had opportunities to explore these fields.”

In 2019 Wake Downtown received a grant to take STEM lessons into K-12 classrooms. While this latest grant funds opportunities for older students, both programs aim to reduce barriers that traditionally prevent students from underrepresented populations from accessing quality experiential STEM enrichment. They are designed to foster an appreciation for STEM disciplines and their connection to daily life. 

WF LEAP also seeks to improve students’ confidence to pursue higher levels of STEM education and related careers. Recent statistics from the National Science Foundation show that underrepresented minorities received 11% of research doctorates in science and engineering, but comprise 27% of the U.S. population and about 30% of the workforce.

About the Burroughs Wellcome Fund

For more than 25 years, the Fund has supported informal STEM programs in North Carolina through the Student STEM Enrichment Program (SSEP). The SSEP supports diverse programs that enable primary and secondary students to participate in creative, hands-on STEM activities for K-12 students and pursue inquiry-based exploration in BWF’s home state of North Carolina. These awards provide up to $60,000 per year for three years. Since the program’s inception in 1996, BWF has awarded 201 grants totaling $33.7 million to 103 organizations that reach more than 43,000 North Carolina students.

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