Scientists, Scholars & Students: A Student Mentor Program

by Barry Sweeny

he Student Mentorship Program at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy provides an opportunity for an interactive research partnership between students and master scholars and scientists in educational institutions, corporations and laboratories. Students expand their research abilities in depth and in scope, participating in various phases of research activity: proposal writing, experimental design, literature search, observation and documentation, experimentation, theory generation, collaboration, presentation. Research is conducted in a variety of disciplines, reflecting the student's passion for a particular study and the mentor's expertise.
Mentorship focuses on process rather than product. Students document their research in lab notebooks, later presenting work in forums, such as IMSA's Presentation Day or the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Twelve students submitted abstracts for presentation at the Seventh National Conference on Undergraduate Research and all proposals were accepted. The students made their first public presentations of their research on March 25-27 at the University of Utah conference. The twelve IMSA students were the only high school participants out of over 1000 researchers making presentations.
Two mentorship students have been listed as co-authors for presentations by their research teams. Adam Duston with the University of Illinois Medical Center sponsored Molecular Biology Retreat (Expression of smooth and skeletal myosin in the urethral sphincter of young and old female rat) and Jennifer Soriano with the Loyola University research team (P elements in natural population: the Australian P-Q-M cline revisited) at the Midwest Drosophila Conference. Early in the morning every sixth school day, students board chartered buses which take them from the Academy to their mentor sites. Students spend the entire day working under the guidance of their mentors; some on independent projects, some on pieces of a larger puzzle, but all working on real-world research.
During the 1992-93 school year, the fourth year of the mentorship program, 120 students were paired with mentors at forty sites around the Chicago area. Research disciplines included immunology, law, history, organ transplants, neonatology, astrophysics, engineering, telecommunications, genetics, oncology, physics, physiology, mycology, sociology, music, psychology, computer science, biochemistry, environmental ecology, electronics, chemistry, sports physiology, manufacturing technology, pharmacology, neuroscience, mathematics, botany, microbiology, dermatology, public policy, and geography.
Through these interactions and the contribution of their discoveries, students become active participants in the community of scholars and scientists.

Peggy Connolly is Mentorship Program Coordinator at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois USA.