High School Students Get To Participate In Hands-On Lab Research At UA’s KEYS Program

UA KEYS Program

“Normally, high school students aren’t given the opportunity to work in a lab because it is a huge responsibility.”
 Eugene Wang, an Arizona high school student, and one of this year’s participants in the University of Arizona’s Keep Engaging Youth in Science (KEYS) internship program.

For 10 years the University of Arizona’s KEYS program has recruited promising high school students across Arizona as interns to actively participate in hands-on lab research at the university, facilities that KEYS mentor and interim director of the Southwestern Environmental Health Sciences Center, Nathan Cherrington, classifies as some of the best research in the world. It started out with only nine student participants in its first year, and since then the outreach program, which is designed to foster student’s interest and drive to pursue careers in bioscience, biomedical and biotechnology, has grown substantially since its inception.

According to the program’s website, KEYS “is committed to providing hands-on research opportunities to talented students from diverse backgrounds. By exposing them to all facets of science research at the University of Arizona, KEYS fosters knowledge, skills, and confidence and helps students define their degree and career goals.

Now hosting 48 interns annually, the program is recognized as one of the state’s top educational programs for pre-college students. Keys alumni have gone on to study at the University of Arizona and become KEYS mentors themselves.

“I think it’s important for high school students to understand what kind of options are out there for research careers,” said Catherine Smith, associate professor in the University of Arizona Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the College of Pharmacy, and KEYS mentor for nine years.

Each student is paired with a faculty mentor and gets a unique, personalized experience to focus on a specific topic of research. Interns then get the opportunity to present their work to their families, UA scientists, and program sponsors in a research showcase and closing ceremony at the end of the program.

KEYS impacts students of all kinds. Whether it’s stirring a new passion in students whose only science experience is reading their classroom textbooks, to those who are already passionate and eager to participate in the field of research.

“KEYS was the best time of my life, and I feel it has assured me that I am on the right track as far as college and career goes,” says Khalid Ahmad, a 2015 intern.

No matter what kind of students it’s inspiring, KEYS is a program highly valuable to education in Arizona, and has set a new precedent for educational programs of its kind.

Samantha Hendricks
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