High School Students Team with Converse Faculty for Research

Dr. Neval Erturk and Abigail Tillman
Dr. Neval Erturk and Abigail Tillman
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A $5,000 grant from the Spartanburg County Foundation will support a unique science-based mentoring initiative for five local high school students to work collaboratively with Converse College faculty members this summer. The Summer Research Fellows are participants in the STARS program at Converse (Converse Science, Technology and Research Scholars), which pairs Converse faculty with outstanding high school students for long-term, in-depth science and technology projects that often garner top awards in the region. Converse has received grant funding from several organizations to support operations of the three-year-old program, which runs for ten weeks during the summer and throughout the entire academic year.

Fourteen students from Dorman and Spartanburg Day School participated during the 2012-2013 academic year and will speak briefly about their research experiences during a closing ceremony at Converse on June 4. Their projects ranged from exploring Crohn’s disease and pancreatic cancer to studying the effect of artificial sweetener Stevia on blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and from researching how plants respond to environmental changes to creating new visualization tools for understanding organic chemistry through computer animations.

“This is something that undergraduate kids dream of getting the chance to do and my son is just a junior in high school.”

“This research opportunity has been an incredible experience. It has allowed me to be part of competitions, experience different types of projects and has exposed me to a broader range of scientific careers,” said Avi Borad, a junior at Spartanburg Day School.

In addition to research, local students are exposed to various degrees within the sciences and technology fields and have the opportunity to participate in science-based events.

“This is something that undergraduate kids dream of getting the chance to do and my son is just a junior in high school,” said Eddie Schrieffer, whose son, Stewart, participated in the program this year. “Stewart was so blessed to have such personal instruction from Drs. Sheri Stickland and Peter Brown in collaborating on a computer science/chemistry research project this past semester. The time and resources Converse invested in a junior at Dorman High School is such a gift to the Spartanburg community.”

Leading the initiative is Dr. Neval Erturk, associate professor of biology at Converse College.  As an experienced scientist and dedicated mentor, she organizes many aspects of the program with a goal to establish meaningful community partnerships allowing students to explore the world of science.

“I love working with high school students. There is only one reason for them to be in my lab-- they want to be here. They are curious, interested and enthusiastic about their research and they have a lot of pride in what they are doing,” explains Erturk.  “They have such a strong sense of ownership that at times it makes me smile, and watching them engrossed in their project renews my passion for science.”

Collaboration and mentorship is nothing new for Converse.  Over the past several years, the Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences has embarked on numerous mentoring projects, collaborating with local high schools and community organizations, creating a pipeline for sciences and technology fields. Converse also gives the Outstanding Young Women in Science award annually at the Piedmont III Regional Science Fair, honoring the top project by a female participant as a means of encouraging young women’s interest in the sciences.

"Watching them engrossed in their project renews my passion for science."

“Converse’s commitment to faculty-mentored student research has helped expand the opportunities for both high school and college students to engage in high-level, hands-on research,” said Dr. Jeffrey Barker, vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. “This research is guided by experienced faculty who give students real insight into the challenges and rewards of research.”

Chad Erturk, a junior at Spartanburg Day School, has worked with Dr. Richard Keen on psychology research at Converse for the last three years. “I love my mentor so much that I keep coming back to work with him,” he said. “Doing scientific research, working in a college and presenting my research greatly increased my confidence. For me, it's been an unforgettable experience.”

Dr. Barker adds, “Student researchers are the future doctors, biomedical researchers, break-through chemists in industry, and educators in our world. Research drives progress for all of us.”