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STARS In the News

UM System President Mun Choi challenges more than 100 young scientists, STARS graduates at UMSL

UM System President Mun Choi was the challenge speaker for the 2017 STARS Program Confirmation Ceremony July 21 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on campus. (Photos by Marisol Ramirez)
UM System President Mun Choi was the challenge speaker for the 2017 STARS Program Confirmation Ceremony July 21 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on campus. (Photos by Marisol Ramirez)

Jul/25/2017

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi visited St. Louis on Friday for a celebration of gifted young minds as 96 high school students and six undergraduate research associates graduated from the 2017 Students and Teachers as Research Scientists summer program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Choi was the featured speaker for the confirmation ceremony on campus. His address pointed to past generational feats – sending a man to the moon, creating the artificial heart, launching the World Wide Web – and challenged the graduates to be as curious, creative, ambitious and civic-minded as their parents and grandparents had been before them.

“Your generation will need to not only match, but dramatically extend the contributions from those who came before you,” said Choi, who cited sustainable energy, climate change and affordable health care as some of the immediate issues facing their generation. “We need your talents, creativity and innovation to help address these and other major problems that confront us. We’re counting on you. Are you ready?”

Thanks to the STARS program, they may be one step closer to pursuing careers of such discovery and importance after six weeks of intensive, collegiate science research.

STARS pairs academically talented high school rising seniors and new undergraduate students with more than 60 local scientists in the fields of biology, chemistry, computer science, earth science, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, medicine, physics and psychology.

The mentors are top researchers from Confluence Discovery Technologies, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and the host institution, UMSL.

“UMSL is happy to offer STARS students, who are some of the best and brightest, exceptional, collegiate research opportunities,” said UMSL Chancellor Tom George. “Hopefully the experience inspires them to become top scientists themselves and help make the world a better place.”

At the ceremony, George announced a scholarship covering tuition and offering $750 for books and research opportunities for any STARS student wishing to enroll at UMSL in fall 2018.

STARS is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor at UMSL, SLU, WUSTL, St. Louis Symphony, Monsanto, Missouri Botanical Garden, Academy of Science of St. Louis, Easter Seal Midwest, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis Symphony, University of Missouri–Kansas City, John Burroughs School and Boeing Co.

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New students Gabrielle Murphy (left) and Christopher Ernst, both in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, come to UMSL after gaining research experience in the precollegiate STARS program more than a year ago. (Photos by August Jennewein)
New students Gabrielle Murphy (left) and Christopher Ernst, both in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, come to UMSL after gaining research experience in the precollegiate STARS program more than a year ago. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Christopher Ernst and Gabrielle Murphy could have gone to almost any university after completing the 2015 precollegiate Students and Teachers as Research Scientists program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

But Ernst and Murphy, two of the best and brightest from the region, chose UMSL because of its research opportunities, close-knit community and affordable tuition.

Each summer, STARS pairs academically talented high school students with more than 60 local scientists and top researchers from Array Bridge, Confluence Discovery Technologies, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and the host institution, UMSL. STARS graduates are among the most sought-after college-bound high school students in the country.

“Maybe I could have gotten a bigger name on my degree, but I would have paid 10 times as much,” said Ernst, a pre-med biology major. “I know I can come here [to UMSL] and do all the same stuff – all the research and courses and get as good a degree experience for a lot less money.”

Both Ernst and Murphy are cashing in this fall on the STARS scholarship to UMSL, which they earned after completing the program the summer before their senior year of high school. It covers full tuition and is renewable for four years with good academic standing. It also means the region retains two students with promising futures.

But money wasn’t the only factor. For Murphy the warm, welcoming community sold her on UMSL, as well as the opportunity to be in the Pierre Laclede Honors College.

“That was a big reason why I picked UMSL,” said the psychology major. “I love the smaller class size and the discussions we have. Everyone at UMSL is just so friendly. The teachers are great and really care about their students. When I first toured campus, I just fell in love. You know how people have that ‘say yes to the dress’ moment? I had that ‘say yes to college’ moment.”

Murphy finished No. 15 out of 180 in her graduating class from Affton High School, and Ernst finished No. 3 out of 250 in his graduating class from Christian Brothers College High School. Both came into their first year at UMSL with college credit thanks to a combination of Advanced Placement tests and advanced credit programs. In fact, Murphy is technically a sophomore by credit, and Ernst is just shy.

“We are delighted to have both Christopher and Gabrielle among the incoming students this fall at UMSL,” said Ken Mares, director of STARS. “The training they received should serve them well as undergraduate students.”

That training for Ernst included studying with plant scientist James Umen at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. He worked with a specific mutation of green algae called Volvox, which lives in a variety of freshwater habitats. Concerned with a mutation that makes the Volvox mature slowly, Ernst observed and documented the differences between the lagging algae and a traditionally forming, wild-type specimen. The end goal is to understand why certain cells mature the way they do. If scientists can decipher how algae cells differentiate, then there is hope in understanding the same process in human cells – just the beginnings of stem cell research.

A rising senior in high school at the time, Ernst said working on the study with such a leading expert as Umen and ambitious graduate students was “intimidating.” But he also quickly admitted it was an invaluable experience.

“The research paper we wrote was phenomenally helpful as far as any kind of science class that you have to write a report for,” Ernst said. “Nothing is going to compare to the magnitude of what I had to do there, maybe not until I reach med school. Plus it was a really good way to open me up to how much research we have here.”

Murphy’s STARS experience had her working with Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, associate professor of psychiatry at Wash U, whose research interests include the reduction of health and mental health disparities among underserved populations and the risk behaviors associated with substance abuse and dependence.

Murphy surveyed marijuana review videos on YouTube to determine their influence on viewers under 18, the legal age to use in some states. The goal of the research is to present evidence that might increase YouTube’s regulation of such videos decreasing underage exposure to marijuana.

“The big YouTube stars for marijuana talk about things like taste and where to find it, which make it easier to access,” she said.

Murphy said that easy access and early use might complicate mental health conditions.

Now at UMSL, both Murphy and Ernst have additional research opportunities thanks to a $1,500 research stipend the STARS program offers its graduates. The money can fund a semester of research of their choosing during their undergraduate career at UMSL. Neither have settled on which research lab they might like to spend their brain power and money on yet.

Outside of their academics, Ernst and Murphy have also tapped into campus life. Both live in Oak Hall and have joined student organizations at UMSL – The Pre-Med Society for Ernst and To Write Love on Her Arms, a mental health awareness group, for Murphy.

“The first weeks have been really great,” Murphy said. “I met a lot of new people. In high school I wasn’t very popular, but now coming into college, I’m making a ton of new friends. I’m invited to go places. I know a lot of people get homesick when they first come to college; I haven’t felt like that. There are always different events and things to see, just a great sense of community here.”

Ernst is finding that community to be extremely diverse, too.

“I sat next to a woman in my chemistry class – she has a 7-year-old daughter and is finally coming back to get her bachelor’s and eventually her doctorate,” he said. “There are so many other people who were in the military before or attended another university or worked first and are now coming back to school. You get so many different experiences that you don’t find at other universities, where most everyone is in the same boat as you coming out of high school. I appreciate having people around me that kind of know how life works already.”

2015 STARS students (from left) Bolatito Fatoki and Katherine Minorini, juniors at Whitfield High School at the time, pose after completing the six-week, precollegiate science research program at UMSL last summer. (Photos by August Jennewein)
2015 STARS students (from left) Bolatito Fatoki and Katherine Minorini, juniors at Whitfield High School at the time, pose after completing the six-week, precollegiate science research program at UMSL last summer. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Apr/27/2016

The University of Missouri–St. Louis precollegiate research program Students and Teachers as Research Scientists has a record 96 high school juniors enrolled this summer. An additional four students will return from last year’s program as research associates, rounding out the grand total to 100 high school participants for 2016.

Those are exciting numbers for the six-week program that introduces the next generation of scientists to the lab and the world of intensive, cutting-edge research.

Running from June 13 to July 22, STARS will pair academically talented students with more than 60 local scientists who work in fields such as biology, chemistry, computer science, earth science, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, medicine, physics and psychology. Opportunities in labs range from studying molecular genetics of rare inherited bone diseases to carbon dioxide capture, utilization and storage to computer graphics and computer game development.

The mentors are top researchers from Array Bridge, Confluence Discovery Technologies, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and the host institution, UMSL.

“The opportunities offered to these students turn into more than advance preparedness for college,” said Ken Mares, director of the STARS program – now in its 28th year. “These students have gone on to shining futures as doctors, conservation scientists and chemical engineers, to name only a few of the many successes.”

Besides the individual attention and experience students gain in the lab, the STARS program also hosts lectures by nationally lauded scientists based in St. Louis. Those lectures span topics from medical ethics to bees to nerve injury and more.

“STARS really opens up the world of science research to high school students on so many levels,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George said. “They benefit from the lab experience, but also the exposure to so many researchers with expert knowledge. And this is all while experiencing college and campus life.”

Social events offer STARS students a taste of the undergraduate experience in St. Louis with activities like an ice cream social, a St. Louis Symphony concert and a St. Louis Cardinals game, among others.

STARS is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor at UMSL, SLU, WUSTL, St. Louis Symphony, DuPont, Monsanto, Missouri Botanical Garden, Academy of Science of St. Louis, Easter Seal Midwest, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Symphony, University of Missouri–Kansas City, John Burroughs School and Boeing Co.

The program’s confirmation ceremony and reception is at 3 p.m. July 22 at the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL. The event is free and open to the public.

Scholarship support, STARS program set pre-med student on career path
UMSL scholarship recipient Ashley Taylor’s interest in topics that “we don’t know much about” began in high school, when she participated in the 2013 STARS program on campus. She plans to become a doctor – possibly a neurologist. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Oct/6/2015

Freshman year at the University of Missouri–St. Louis proved to be something of a whirlwind for now-sophomore biology major Ashley Taylor. So like most college students, she was ready for this past summer’s change of pace. But her respite from coursework and extracurriculars wasn’t exactly a typical break.

“I conducted medical research on carpal tunnel syndrome for six weeks at Washington University’s school of medicine,” she says. “It was a kind of independent study.”

Seizing such hands-on opportunities isn’t new to Taylor, who volunteered at a St. Louis hospital the summer prior and, the summer before that, completed the 2013 Students and Teachers as Research Scientists program at UMSL. STARS brings high school students to campus to work in labs with leading scientists.

“That experience for me was what made me decide on my career path,” says Taylor, who hopes to go on to medical school after UMSL. “Of course, I’d done a few science projects and stuff like that, but this was different. Every single day I was interested in what they were talking about.”

After graduating from St. Joseph’s Academy in 2014, Taylor’s priority was deciding where to go for a high-quality, affordable college education – as well as a vibrant campus experience.

“I was dead set on having the full college experience,” she says.

After considering several out-of-state options, the St. Louis native decided on a place closer to home: UMSL.

“We kept coming to campus and talking to financial aid,” she says, “and all the people were really helpful. In the end, everything was covered.”

Taylor is the recipient of a Monsanto Minority Math/Science Scholarship, Margaret Bush Wilson Scholarship, Pierre Laclede Honors College Scholarship and a STARS Scholarship, among others. It’s all added up to make the college experience she hoped for possible.

“Receiving the UMSL scholarships has allowed me to go to college and receive an education,” she says. “I’m just really grateful for the donors who have been so generous. And it helps keep me motivated.”

The honors student serves as a peer mentor in Multicultural Student Services and has enjoyed getting involved in service projects and other campus efforts as well.

“College is a lot different than high school, but it’s better, I feel,” says Taylor, who currently lives on campus in Oak Hall. “It’s a lot more inclusive. And I’ve met a lot of people in the honors college. It’s nice to have those small classes. The professors really get to know you.”

While science is her focus and college life is busy, Taylor makes time for her crafty DIY side as well. She loves making gifts and Pinterest projects, plus drawing, reading and baking.

“I was the kid who liked to go to Home Depot and look at the paint samples for hours,” she says, then adds after a moment of reflection that perhaps the medical field she’s going into isn’t as far removed from her artistic interests as it might initially seem.

“It’s creative in its own sense,” Taylor says. “And I’ve always kind of looked up to people who are able to do that – heal people.”

 

Nearly 30 of the 60 area high school students who graduated from the STARS program at UMSL were recognized with the LMI Aerospace Award for Excellence in Research. (Photo by August Jennewein)
Nearly 30 of the 60 area high school students who graduated from the STARS program at UMSL were recognized with the LMI Aerospace Award for Excellence in Research. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Aug/16/2015

They came to the University of Missouri–St. Louis as aspiring scientists and left as award-winning researchers.

Nearly 30 high school students in the 2015 Students and Teachers as Research Scientists cohort have snagged an LMI Aerospace Award for Excellence in Research after presenting their research papers to their peers, parents and project mentors.

“Good, solid works approaching that of a starting grad student,” one awards judge remarked.

“I feel like I may have been a bit ‘tough’ because again overall, I thought all of the research and accomplishments were outstanding,” said a second judge.

The scientific papers are the end product of six weeks of participating in UMSL’s pre-collegiate STARS program, which pairs high school students with prominent area scientists to conduct undergraduate-level research.

UMSL partners with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and Confluence Discovery Technologies to offer students a variety of research opportunities.

Other activities include lectures by nationally known scientists, information sessions about the higher education admissions process and social events.

In its 28th year, STARS has sent on more than 2,000 students with research experience to top universities. This cohort is likely to follow suit.

The award dinner and program will follow a 6:30 p.m. reception on Oct. 19 in the Century Rooms of the Millennium Student Center.

KETC’s Jim Kirchherr (right) interviews Parkway Central High School student Lucas Shanker about research he is conducting on bee behavior as part of the 2015 STARS summer program at UMSL. (Photos by August Jennewein)
KETC’s Jim Kirchherr (right) interviews Parkway Central High School student Lucas Shanker about research he is conducting on bee behavior as part of the 2015 STARS summer program at UMSL. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Jul/15/2015

Waiting out in the lobby of the Research Building at the University of Missouri–St. Louis was Aimee Dunlap, assistant professor of biology.

“We’re science researchers,” she teased. “We don’t really come out of our labs and do these sorts of things.”

She meant things like going on camera with KETC (Channel 9) for an in-depth look at her lab’s role in the Students and Teachers as Research Scientists program at UMSL.

STARS brings high school students to campus every summer to conduct research in labs with leading scientists and write academic papers to present at the end of the six-week program. Interested particularly in science education, The Nine Network’s Senior Producer Jim Kirchherr wanted to feature STARS on his new show “Science Matters.”

“Science explains so many things that we’re surrounded by,” he said. “It’s important that we continue that exploration.”

Dunlap and her STARS student Lucas Shanker spent the better part of their morning acquainting Kirchherr with their study on bees’ social choices and behavior.

With the camera gear and the media crammed into the lab for close-ups of tunnels constructed for the bees, Dunlap’s voice cut over the top of all the buzz –

“We’re examining the bees like they’re shopping in a grocery store,” she said. “It’s game theory. We want to see if they learn faster and make certain choices independently or if they choose things based on social information.”

Kirchherr then interviewed Shanker, who explained how one bee might follow the scent or choice of another.

“It was pretty cool being on camera,” he said. “It was exciting, and I was nervous, but I get to see myself on TV later.”

The Parkway Central High School student will go back to his senior year with undergraduate-level research experience to put on his college applications and a little bit of time in the spotlight.

Besides Dunlap’s lab, Kirchherr also visited the labs of Bruce Hamper and Wendy Olivas, who each mentored a STARS student this summer. In total there are 13 UMSL faculty members who hosted at least one of the 64 students who graduated from the STARS program on July 17.

Students also conducted research at partner institutions, which include Confluence Discovery Technologies, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Even UMSL Chancellor Tom George got a bit of time on camera when he lectured to the STARS students about the different states of matter, focusing mainly on his work with carbon clusters.

“Fewer people are going into science, technology, engineering and math fields,” George said. “STARS is trying to make a special thrust for all kinds of students from different backgrounds and experiences to go on to college and into STEM disciplines.”

STARS is sponsored by LMI Aerospace/D3 Technologies, the Office of the Chancellor at UMSL, SLU, WUSTL, St. Louis Symphony, DuPont Nutrition and Health, Monsanto, Academy of Science of St. Louis, Easter Seals Midwest, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, St. Louis Zoo and University of Missouri–Kansas City.

The STARS segment on “Science Matters” aired Wednesday July 29 at 10 p.m. on Nine PBS.

Professor of Chemistry Keith Stine (left) oversees 2013 STARS student Max Bernstein (MICDS) and his mentor Abeera Sharma (PhD chemistry 2014) as they test the materials and biochemical aspects of carbohydrates in Stine’s lab at UMSL.
Professor of Chemistry Keith Stine (left) oversees 2013 STARS student Max Bernstein (MICDS) and his mentor Abeera Sharma (PhD chemistry 2014) as they test the materials and biochemical aspects of carbohydrates in Stine’s lab at UMSL.

Apr/16/2015

This summer, 68 high school juniors will fill the laboratories at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, conducting science research that ranges from examining the biochemical compounds that potentially fight cervical cancer to designing and building satellites.

It’s all part of the 2015 Students and Teachers as Research Scientists program running June 8 through July 17 at UMSL.

“We are delighted to have one of the most outstanding groups of high school students in the history of the program,” Director Ken Mares said.

STARS pairs academically talented high school students with more than 60 scientists who work in fields such as biology, chemistry, computer science, earth science, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, medicine, physics and psychology.

The mentors are top researchers from Confluence Discovery Technologies, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and the host institution, UMSL.

“The opportunity the STARS program provides is two-fold,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George said. “Not only will the high school students work side by side with prominent mentors and participate in important science research, but they will also experience what college and campus life is like.”

In addition to lectures by nationally known scientists from the St. Louis science community, students will attend social events such as bowling, a movie, an ice cream social, a St. Louis Symphony concert and a St. Louis Cardinals game. They will also have the opportunity to learn about the higher education admission process.

STARS is sponsored by LMI Aerospace/D3 Technologies, the Office of the Chancellor at UMSL, SLU, WUSTL, St. Louis Symphony, DuPont, Monsanto, Academy of Science of St. Louis, Life Skills, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, University of Missouri–Kansas City, John Burroughs School and Boeing Co.

STARS will conclude with a confirmation ceremony and reception at 3 p.m. July 17 at the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL. The event is free and open to the public.

Nearly 90 high school students took part in the 2014 STARS program at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)
Nearly 90 high school students took part in the 2014 STARS program at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Aug/28/2014

Thirty aspiring scientists have been rewarded for a summer of hard work at the Students and Teachers as Research Scientists (STARS) Program.

The teenage scientists were part of a larger group that spent six weeks conducting intensive research with St. Louis-area professionals and professors as part of the program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The 30 high school students have been named winners of the LMI Aerospace Inc. Award for Excellence in Research. This year 88 high school students participated in the program.

A panel of 13 outstanding scientists reviewed the papers in their area of specialty. Winning papers best exemplified the following qualities: difficulty and complexity of research; appropriateness of the research methodology; findings; quality of writing; and overall quality of the research process.

Whittling down the papers to a winning few wasn’t an easy task for the judges.

“The papers were of very high quality and reflect both the significant learning and value of the summer experience for these young students, some of whom may decide on careers in science,” said one of the judges.

STARS pairs academically talented, rising junior- and senior-level high school students with mentors to provide research opportunities for the participants. UMSL partners with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and Confluence Discovery Technologies. Following six weeks of research on everything from biofuels to bumblebees, the participants presented their research papers to their peers, parents and research mentors.

Other activities include lectures by nationally known scientists, information sessions about the higher education admissions process and social events.

The winners will be recognized at an awards dinner Oct. 6 at UMSL.