Chemistry internship reunion celebrates success of local high schoolers

HSLS interns reunite and stand together with their mentors in the office of the late Professor and Nobel-Prize winning chemist Robert Burns Woodward

Damilyis Gonzalez, (from left), Ivan Arvizo, Grant Stec, and Roshaun Knight.

3 min read

As a junior at Brighton High School in 2022, Roshaun Knight was unsure about his plans after graduation. An ambitious student, Knight had always wanted to go to college but had been putting off the application process, until he participated in the inaugural Harvard Chemistry High School Laboratory Skills (HSLS) summer internship program.

“Working with professors during the internship and working with other students confirmed to me that college is something I wanted to do,” Knight said. “It gave me the sense that I got to try and be more hands on [with college].”

On Jan. 10, former interns of the first HSLS program, Knight and Damilyis Gonzalez, reunited at Harvard with their mentors to consider the impact their work – hands-on, collaborative research and experimentation in a Harvard chemistry lab — has already had on their careers. Since their internships, Knight and Gonzalez were accepted at and enrolled in UMass Boston, and they credit HSLS for motivating them to pursue higher education.

The internship program, a partnership between the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) and the Harvard Ed Portal, paired local high school students with faculty labs and graduate student mentors. The program aims to provide an experiential learning experience for interns to improve their science literacy, expose them to careers in the sciences, and equip them with basic life science, laboratory, and workforce skills.

CCB’s partnership with the Ed Portal on this program began in the spring of 2022, when CCB graduate students taught weekly classes on science literacy and laboratory skills at the Harvard Ed Portal for a group of Brighton High School students. At the end of the course, Knight was paired with graduate student Grant Stec in the lab of Professor Jarad Mason, while Gonzalez was paired with Ivan Arvizo and Claire Casaday in the lab of Professor Theodore Betley.

Working on developing atomically precise silver chalcogenide nanoclusters, Knight shadowed Stec as they setup various reactions, optimized synthesis, and identified undiscovered nanoparticles through X-ray crystallography.

“The level of research was super advanced, but Grant did a really good job of explaining so I’d get a better understanding of the lab work,” Knight said.

Knight’s work played a significant role in Stec’s doctoral dissertation and led to multiple manuscripts currently in the pipeline for academic publication.

Working in the field of inorganic chemistry, Gonzalez studied the reactivity of metal complexes for iron with Arvizo’s guidance.  Gonzalez got significant hands-on experience doing reactions inside of a glovebox using very fine, synthetic techniques, while breaking down y breaking down chemistry concepts across languages.

“The lab was discussing chemistry theory in English, while I grew up studying it in Spanish,” said Gonzalez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. “Ivan and I would go back and forth between Spanish and English while we worked and translated the terms so we could conduct research.”

Knight and Gonzalez are excited about staying connected with their mentors and using the skills they learned at HSLS in the future.