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Courtney McKee ’11, right, worked with (L-R) Rachel Kerr of Trinity Catholic High School in Newton, Saloni Sachar of Melrose High School and Rebecca Rago of Brookline High School during a recent session of the Women In Science and Technology Program.  (Photo by J.D. Levine)

Program Continues to Thrive at Five

Halfway through its first decade, Women In Science and Technology gives BC students opportunity to mentor high schoolers in the lab
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By Ed Hayward   | Chronicle Staff
Published: February 18, 2010
The Women In Science and Technology Program marks its fifth anniversary this month, with a volunteer corps of undergraduate chemistry, biology and biochemistry majors leading girls from Boston-area high schools through a month-long weekend program of research, lectures, field trips, and mentoring in the sciences.

Started by alumna Elizabeth O’Day ’06, WIST brings approximately 30 high school students to campus, where they are guided through Saturday programs organized entirely by BC undergrads.

This year’s WIST co-coordinators, biology majors Janine Sanderman ’10 and Courtney McKee ’11, are teamed up with student leaders Meg Cells ’10, chemistry and education, and Sara Samaha ’11, and Cristina Olcese ’10, both biology students. Faculty advisors are Professor of Chemistry Mary Roberts, Adjunct Associate Professor of Chemistry Lynne O’Connell and Associate Professor of Biology Clare O’Connor.

O’Day said she started the program after constantly being asked how she felt about being one of the few female students majoring in biochemistry. Even as a graduate student working toward her doctorate in chemical biology at Harvard Medical School, she finds she is still one of relatively few women doing biochemistry research.

“Until I got those questions, I never thought of it that way. I just loved science and doing real research in the lab,” said O’Day. “But I thought it would be great to encourage girls in high school to pursue study and careers in science and not feel like they were the only ones. It’s important for girls to still think it is possible.”

The WIST undergraduate coordinators and a group of approximately 15 undergraduate science majors lead the roughly 30 high schoolers through college-level experiments into polymers, diagnostic tests, materials and forensics. The program also includes field trips to places like O’Day’s lab at Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the New England Wildlife Center and BC’s Weston Observatory.

The high school students come from throughout the Boston area and must apply to the program. Funding and support for the program come from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Chemistry and Biology departments.

“I’ve been impressed by how well it’s run by our students,” said Roberts. “Each year they come together and prepare the program, then carry it out. They put a lot of effort into it and that makes a difference for these high school students. For our students, it’s a great experience and chance to keep learning. If you really want to understand something, you teach it.”

McKee said the volunteers come together annually with participants from prior years taking on leadership roles. They meet monthly throughout the fall and then weekly as the start-date approaches. McKee said the intent has been to have the program serve as a
“springboard” into the sciences.

“This is an experience I would have loved to have had in high school that wasn’t available to me,” said McKee, a Presidential Scholar and A&S Honors Program member, and currently a Beckman Scholar whose research with Associate Professor of Biology Junona Moroianu is supported by an 18-month grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. “So I was interested in providing the experience to high school students. The approach this year has been to try to help develop skills and a way of thinking scientifically that will allow them to pursue science in the future.”

O’Day said it’s gratifying to see the program continue to thrive and that she looks forward to the chance to host students during a tour of  her Harvard lab.

“I’m always so impressed that the BC students step up to keep the program going and that the high school students still keep coming,”

O’Day said. “It’s quite inspiring how much they care and how much time they put into it. My role is limited now. It’s other people who have made it what it is today. The BC community has really taken it over and embraced it.”

For more information about the Women In Science and Technology program, see www.bc.edu/schools/cas/chemistry/diversity/wst.html.