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Trying Science On for Size

Summary

Wisconsin high school students Winston Wildebush and Jessica Van Stappen edit a radio script about their work as Cable Natural History Museum forest lab interns.

Katelyn Parker will never forget the wolves. There's something about wolves howling at 3 a.m., on an overnight visit to the remote Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota, that makes a lasting impression on a 17-year-old.

Although she awoke with a major case of goose bumps, her close encounter with wolves was not the most memorable experience of Parker's summer in an HHMI-supported science internship. What made the biggest impression on the singer and saxophone player was her visit to a recording studio, where an engineer did a demo on the science of sound.

There are lots of ways we could connect our students with scientists working in the field and lab.

Allison Slavick

Scientific careers can seem like a distant dream to rural high-school students. But dreams became reality this summer for Parker and 11 other northern Wisconsin teens selected to participate in the HHMI-supported Forest Lab Intern Program (FLIP) run by the Cable Natural History Museum. The students shadowed doctors, visited a zoo, worked at a recording studio, studied river hydrology and spent time with botanists at an arboretum. Back at the museum, they conducted experiments, prepared exhibits and produced a radio show about their experiences that airs on WOJB-FM. A DJ from the station, based on the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian reservation, helped the students produce their programs.

FLIP's goal, says program instructor Brad Gingras, is "to introduce them to as many science careers as we can and show how to get there, what majors they should take in school."

Museum director Allison Slavick created FLIP more than six years ago. She knew that classroom learning would not hook the kind of student she wanted to reach. Yet, while the Cable area is rural, "quite a bit of science is being done here," Slavick says. "We are surrounded by a 900,000-acre national forest; we have scientists here with the federal government, the state universities, the [Wisconsin] Department of Natural Resources. There are lots of ways we could connect our students with scientists working in the field and lab."

During the school year, Gingras, a certified science teacher, promotes the program to science students at 10 northern Wisconsin high schools. Applicants must write an essay describing their scientific interests, and although Gingras admits that "scares a lot of kids," FLIP had 50 applicants for 12 slots in 2003. Those selected "are the cream of the crop, the ones you would want in any class," he says.

The required essay didn't faze Sara Nemec, 16, of Washburn, Wisconsin. "I had this phenomenal biology teacher, and I was always interested in science, but I do not especially like textbook learning, I like hands-on." When Gingras described the field trips, Nemec says, she knew FLIP was for her. The actual experience exceeded her expectations. "It was definitely worth my time, I don't understand why they paid me; I would have done it as a volunteer." (To make the program as similar to a professional internship as possible, each student earns $1,000 for nine weeks of work.)

FLIP earns high marks from its participants for providing an insider's look at the world of working scientists and helping students start mapping their own scientific careers. For Winston Wildebush, 16, also of Washburn, the program supplemented the limited variety of science classes at a 200-student high school. He's looking toward a possible career in marine biology.

Another participant, Greg Lulich, 16, of Ashland calls his FLIP summer “a hands-on experience other kids just don't get. I know kids who would die for this opportunity…I feel lucky to have been one of the chosen 12." And, adds Lulich, "it was a whole lot of fun."

For More Information

Jim Keeley
[ 301-215-8858 ]