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FHS students test ORNL mentor program

OAK RIDGE — Eddie Buehler will graduate from Farragut High School this spring with the kind of real-world experience of which some graduate students would be jealous.

Buehler, along with 10 fellow FHS seniors, completed a unique pilot program offered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Oak Ride National Laboratory as part of the ORISE Higher Education Research Experien-ces program. HERE seeks to connect students with valuable research opportunities that they may build upon as they continue with education.

The students, all enrolled in advanced placement or honors courses in science, math and/or engineering, were invited to complete research projects in everything from computer science to nuclear science under the direction of ORNL mentors.

Pictured in the back row, left to right, are Kristin Baksa, FHS advisor; students, Sarah Kortebein, Eddie Buehler, Ding Ma, Ben Pierce, Adam Pharr and Jian Zhang; Jane Skinner, FHS advisor, and Linda Holmes, ORISE group manager.

Front row, left to right, are Cheryl Terry, ORISE project manager, and students Jessica Feng, Erin Groh, Joseph Schmidt, Kenny Jacobs and Richard Lo.

“My research project helped me figure out what I want to focus on,” said Zhang, one of Buehler’s classmates who plans to study electrical engineering in college. Zhang said his experience working with control systems at the Spallation Neutron Source reinforced that desire. “Right now I’m getting a preview of electrical engineering for college, and I’m figuring out the specific kinds of research I want to work on.”

Buehler’s experience also refined his interests and goals for the future. Buehler worked in ORNL’s Materials Science Division, observing atoms interacting and moving with each other in molecular dynamic simulation. Now he plans to pursue a research career in the related field of chemical engineering.

“I didn’t know anything about this field before I went through the program,” he said, “but it’s definitely something I’m into.”

“It’s a real confidence builder,” Baska said of the program. “These students will already know what’s being talked about when they walk into their college research classes. The networking they’re doing also is a big deal. They’re making valuable contacts for their future careers.”

During the four-month program, students spent between two and eight hours of class time each week at the lab researching projects in fields such as biosciences, fusion energy and nuclear science and technology, all while earning school credit. Findings from the students’ research projects were presented at a poster session held at the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies building at ORNL at the end of the program. The session was in conjunction with a poster session for ORISE’s post-graduate research program, which offers research opportunities for post-graduate students looking to fulfill their degree requirements.

According to ORISE group manager Linda Holmes, the pilot program was deemed a success by all involved, and ORNL mentors were asked to be members of an advisory board to provide input on more formally organizing the program for the coming academic year. Holmes noted the program would be expanded to include other area high schools next year.

ORISE is a U.S. Department of Energy institute focusing on scientific initiatives to research health risks from occupational hazards, assess environmental cleanup, respond to radiation medical emergencies, support national security and emergency preparedness and educate the next generation of scientists.

ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.


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