From high school to Harvard chemistry labs

CCB Executive Director and graduate student mentor stand next to a research intern holding her certificate of completion.

Graduate student mentor Paula Pelayo (left) and Executive Director Deana Reardon (right) celebrate research intern Dayana Ulloa. Photo by Yahya Chaudhry

3 min read

A group of local high school students joined Harvard mentors for a six-week program to improve their science literacy and equip them with basic life science, laboratory, and workforce skills.

In partnership with the Harvard Ed Portal and the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB), the inaugural High School Lab Skills Summer (HSLS) concluded on Aug. 18. The five high school students joined faculty labs as research interns where they were paired with graduate student mentors to gain the essential laboratory skills.

“This program seeks to identify and support high school students who are not aware of STEM laboratory career options,” said Deana Reardon, executive director of CCB. “For CCB, this program complements our collective focus on increasing diversity in our department, cultivating mentorship, and forging outreach efforts within the Boston community.”

The HSLS program began in the spring when two graduate students, Rebecca Frank and Ranad Humeidi, taught a weekly class about science literacy and laboratory skills at the Harvard Ed Portal. The Brighton High School students in attendance had been nominated by their teachers. At the end of the semester, the students demonstrated the skills they had acquired in front of high school science teachers and guests from CCB.

Professor Jarad Mason, the faculty program lead, reached out to fellow CCB faculty members and identified five groups who were each able to host a high school student for six weeks this summer.

The graduate students provided guidance and instruction to the high schoolers as they performed experiments, read scientific papers, and experienced scientific research in action. The students also participated in laboratory research, attended group meetings, lunched with faculty and staff, performed experiments, and utilized the department’s X-ray facilities.

“Graduate students are truly the key to make this program successful,” Reardon said. “We could not have asked for a better group of mentors this year; they exceeded every expectation and rose to every challenge set before them.”

The high schoolers credit the program with exposing them to careers in the STEM field and new skills in chemistry research.

“I had never coded or soldered in my life, so it was really interesting,” said Wilmaris Gonzales, a high school research intern in the Ni Lab. “I coded to measure the voltage to Lab JackT7. I learned how to code and make circuits by soldering.”

“This is a program we are hoping to continue into the long term,” Mason said. “We want to continue to match high school students with CCB labs during summers.”

The interns and their mentors; photos are available at CCB:

  • Damilyis Gonzales, Betley Lab. Mentors: Ivan Arvizo and Claire Casaday
  • Maryam Abbaz, Woo Lab. Mentor: Angel Ni
  • Dayana Ulloa, Balskus lab. Mentor: Paula Pelayo
  • Roshaun Knight, Mason Lab. Mentor: Grant Stec
  • Wilmaris Gonzales, Ni Lab. Mentor: Conner Williams