Local High School Students Immersed in Science Research at SU

September 29, 2015

Every summer, lots of high school students use their extra free time to take on part-time jobs. For many, that means putting a couple extra bucks in their pockets by grabbing a few hours behind a cash register or mowing the neighbor’s yard. Three local high school students made a decidedly different choice this summer when they became scientific researchers at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Through a special grant from the Siemens Foundation, Nottingham’s Francesca Giardine, East Syracuse-Minoa’s Bilal Zuhric, and Fayetteville-Manlius’ Shirley Zhang spent 10 weeks on the Syracuse University campus in an experience typically reserved for college students. Giardine, Zuhric, and Zhang applied to the program based on recommendations from mentors at their high schools. They were selected by Syracuse University professors, who oversaw the students’ work with the assistance of graduate students from their labs.

The topic of their research was determined by each lab’s needs and each student’s interest. It ranged from detailing phosphorus trends in an Adirondack lake for Giardine, to making homes more energy efficient for Zuhric, to optimizing hydrogels for cartilage repair for Zhang.

Giardine described her lifelong interest in understanding and protecting the environment and how her work this summer has helped solidify her interest in advocating conservation. She added, “I was given an environmental engineering project that I could work on independently with the support of the lab. I’ve had the opportunity to do my own lab work and analyze my own data. This opportunity sparked a curiosity that I hadn’t felt since I was a little kid. I had forgotten what that was like. Remembering that is the most important thing that could have happened.”

Tom McCausland ‘64, the former CEO and president of Siemens Medical Solutions USA, devised this research opportunity. After retiring from his role as the chair of the Siemens Foundation, he was presented with $10,000 to fund a scientific learning program of his choice. McCausland chose to use the grant at his alma mater to help young people explore a degree in science and engineering.

McCausland said, “What we were trying to do, besides celebrate excellence in science in the United States, is help young people make a decision about their future—do I become an engineer, do I become a scientist, or do I do something different? I wanted to run something for young people to discover the kind of education they can receive at SU and help them learn if they want to pursue a technical career.”

The students’ research culminated in a poster presentation at the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s Undergraduate Research Symposium Competition in August. Judges from the college and industry judged 35 posters and awarded prizes for the best work. One of this year’s second prize recipients was Shirley Zhang for her biomedical engineering research.

While undecided about her future major, Zhang affirms that McCausland’s grant has provided a valuable learning experience that would not have been fulfilled by the average summer job. She said, “My biggest takeaway is just knowing how research works. I think it will be in my future. In college, I’ll definitely be doing research.”