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Garcia Research Scholar Program Nurtures Young Talent

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There is widespread agreement that more young people to pursue careers in STEM, particularly women. Providing challenging and engaging opportunities outside the classroom during high school has a major impact on inspiring students to continue in STEM fields during college. The Garcia Research Scholar Program, part of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is Stony Brook’s most prestigious pre-college program, with nearly 40 percent of participants continuing to medical school, and another 33 percent going on to graduate programs in STEM.

Garcia students
Garcia program students get a hands-on introduction to STEM.

The Garcia Research Scholar Program engages young students in polymer material research and helps guide them towards possible career paths and graduate schools in the field. This seven-week intensive program combines formal classroom instruction and hands on research both independently and with faculty of the Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineers Interfaces. Students are given the opportunity to work with high school teachers, graduate students, and postdocs on scientific research projects of their choosing, with the goal of having their research entered in national competitions or published in scientific journals.

Chemistry teacher Rebecca Isseroff has been a mentor in the program for 17 years, with the last 12 at Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, NY. During that time, she has had about 30 students qualify as Garcia research scholars. Roughly 75% of the students at Lawrence are minorities and 65% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch.

“The Garcia Research Scholar Program is a tremendous opportunity for my students to gain hands-on research and instructional opportunities they might not otherwise have,” said Ms. Isseroff. “The people and organizations who provide support for the program make it possible for talented scholars with limited resources to participate. All 30 of my students who have been in the program have gone on to college or, in the case of the 2017 group, are in the process of applying. That says a lot about the value.

Many of Ms. Isseroff’s high school students go on to attend Stony Brook because of the accessibility to physical science and medical research on the same campus. The impact of the Garcia program is both scientific and local in that quickly evolving fields like materials science are engaging young people in research and impacting low income communities where students otherwise might not have a shot at attending college.

“Their comfort level with Stony Brook can be credited to their research experience at Garcia,” according to Ms. Isseroff. “This past year at least five of our Honors students chose to attend Stony Brook.”

The Garcia Summer Scholars Program first began in 1998, when Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Professor Miriam Rafailovich decided to spend her summers by throwing open the doors of her labs to mentor high school students in research. What began with 12 students rapidly grew to more than 60 each summer, with over 350 applications submitted annually from all over the country and even overseas. Selection is based on student transcripts, standardized test scores, and letters of recommendation. Dormitory facilities at the university are available for students unable to commute, and the program begins during the last week in June.

“The Garcia program is a prime example of our ongoing commitment to STEM, and brings to life some of the great work taking place in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “To see what has grown out of one professor’s idea to inspire young scholars is truly gratifying. This type of imagination and dedication is how educators can make a difference.”

– Dick Wolfe

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