University of Virginia Hosts Science Career Symposium

November 11, 2008 — About 120 middle and high school students from as far away as Hampton Roads and Prince George County gave Saturday's Science Career Symposium at Clark Hall rave reviews.

The University of Virginia Office for Diversity and Equity and the Office of the Vice President for Research co-sponsored the symposium with the Virginia Junior Academy of Science. Many of the students were affiliated with Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Computers for Kids and the Girl Scouts.

Four University of Virginia scientists — Claire Cronmiller, professor of biology; Jose Fuentes, professor of environmental sciences; Dr. Marcus Martin, professor of emergency medicine and associate vice president for diversity and equity; and Kathryn Thornton, former astronaut and a professor of engineering and applied science — spoke about their careers, encouraging student interest in science and technology.

Students interacted with U.Va. faculty and undergraduate and graduate students and participated in hands-on science and technology demonstrations, which focused on environmental sciences, chemistry at the center of the galaxy, a human patient simulation, the Rome Reborn Project, a virtual chest-tube insertion simulator, robotics, and tours of the Leander McCormick Observatory. Science posters were on display and students visited information booths.

The closing activity, the release of a weather balloon, was followed by a tour of the Grounds for high school students interested in applying to U.Va.

Students, parents and teachers who attended were enthusiastic and energized by the talks and demonstrations.

"This was a great opportunity to engage students in the excitement of science, allowing them to meet real scientists, and see some science in action," said Martin, a scientist, chemical engineer and physician. "This is part of the University's many efforts to bring a diverse array of students into the science pipeline. Hopefully some of them will eventually come back as U.Va. students."

Martin is co-principal investigator (with William Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity) of a $5 million National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant. The funding supports the U.Va.-led Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation. The alliance partners include eight institutions working to double the number of underrepresented minority students earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics bachelor's degrees by 2012.

"We need to motivate our youngsters to consider science for a professional life," said Fuentes, who told symposium participants about his life as an atmospheric scientist who has traveled the world, from the North Pole to the Brazilian rain forests. "Science provides a very interesting, rewarding and satisfying career. We scientists have the opportunity to ask important questions and to provide answers to those questions."

Fuentes said that the symposium students had plenty of questions.

"The middle schoolers were particularly inquisitive," he said. "All the students were really bright. I was saying, 'Please choose to come to U.Va.!'"

Tara Adiseshan, a home-schooled high school senior who wrote a report about the day's activities, said: "The best words to describe the event are: 'The Symposium was a fly-away success!' All of the presentations were smitten with upbeat encouragement to reach for the stars! I sincerely hope one day, I will become a scientist who will make a difference in the world."

The Virginia Junior Academy of Science was established in 1941. Though there have been annual meetings and statewide science competitions for students, the event at U.Va. was only the second science careers symposium.
 
An objective of the Virginia Junior Academy of Science is to discover and encourage scientific aptitude among secondary school students in Virginia and encourage students to continue their education in science, engineering and related fields, and to develop a background among its members that will lead to membership in the Virginia Academy of Science as well as other professional science organizations.

— By Fariss Samarrai