Video: Maine Institutions Look to Help Students Become Scientists

Oct 12, 2016

What turns a student into a scientist? It’s a combination of inquiry, mentoring, curiosity and a chance to actually try it all out for real.

That’s what two educational institutions, Colby College and the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, are providing high school students through programs designed to give students a chance to take an early look at science in depth.

Dr. Dasan M. Thamattoor, a chemistry professor at Colby College in Waterville, says the research projects that students take on spark real learning.

“The reason why we’re doing this is that we don’t know the answer. It’s not like a high school lab where you have a recipe that you’re supposed to get a certain result when you do these certain steps. There is an enormous amount of teaching and learning going on when the teacher and the students are sitting side by side and trying to solve a problem that neither one knows the answer to,” he says.

Researchers and students say what makes the experiences valuable is that the research projects students are involved in — ranging from carbon molecule bonding to the biology of starfish — are real. Both programs run through the summer months, and pair high school students with college students majoring in the sciences.

Nina Badger, a high school student from Jackson, New Hampshire, worked at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory for the summer.

“The whole concept of there being things that I really don’t know and that these very intelligent people that work here don’t know was mind-blowing at first. That’s been really eye-opening for me, that there’s so much that we don’t know, and I think that’s really cool,” she says.

Mentoring is a key part of programs both on MDI and at Colby.

Nora Surour, a Colby student who mentored high school students in the chemistry program, says mentors gain from the experience, in addition to their younger peers.

“As you explain to people, you yourself understand things better because you have to put it in the simplest way possible, and to do that, you need to know it and master it a little bit more,” she says.