Science Research Projects class should broaden scope

Expanding to cover all STEM fields would encourage more students to participate

Palo Alto High School should expand its Science Research Projects (SRP) class to allow students opportunities to acquire work experience in more Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, and expand the course beyond biology, chemistry and physics. Currently, SRP is taught by Keith Geller and only has 14 students, representing less than one percent of our school’s population.

Having a high school internship provides students with important life skills, from networking to resume building. Many students do not realize the importance of having an internship, and therefore do not consider taking the class. Internships allow students to participate in a real work environment, and work with professionals in the field they are interested in. This can be a valuable asset to students who are unsure of the career path they wish to take.

Finding an internship is a good learning experience, but can often be extremely challenging. Paly should provide support to students who cannot find internships or simply link up students with potential mentors. This program could be executed in the same way as our Community Service program is done today, which will allow students to access a resource to find these opportunities.

Living in Silicon Valley gives Paly students lots of opportunities to find internships in various STEM fields, so Paly should take advantage of our surroundings and help students discover these opportunities. Currently, in the SRP class, students are instructed to find and approach a mentor in a field that interests them, requiring them to go through the job search and application process. Students who are unable to find a mentor in the summer preceding the start of the course may receive help in this, but ultimately if they do not find one they will be forced to drop.

The limited number of student in the class can be attributed to lack of publicity for the class. Many students attended the first meeting in the spring of last year, only to drop the class later on. Yet, as we are a school of nearly 2000 students it does not make sense that fewer than 50 students would show up to the first meeting, and only 14 students would continue with the program. Clearly, there is a lack of communication about the opportunities presented by SRP.

During the school year, students in the program have to do a minimum of 70 hours of lab work each semester, and attend weekly lunch meetings. In addition to this, students also present a scientific abstract, a scientific poster, a multi-media presentation and a technical scientific paper explaining the nature of their research.

SRP should be expanded into more fields, to allow students who wish to gain school credit in internships not related to biology, chemistry and physics to do so. By expanding the number of fields that it covers, SRP can attract a wider range of students and provide this experience to a larger population. The program can even be extended beyond STEM, in fields such as computer science and other forms of mathematics and engineering.

SRP gives students the chance to work with research scientists during the school year. This, it does well, for the small class of 14 students. Ultimately, Paly should try to engage as many students as possible in this program, as it provides valuable work experience, and life lessons. By expanding the program, and giving more support to students, this goal can be reached.