By Ciara Kernan
Ward Melville High School
Some high schoolers spend their summers at the beach or in the pool, soaking up the sun. Others seek out a different environment — the chilly research laboratory.
Stony Brook is known for the research opportunities it provides to its students. During the summer, a slightly younger demographic arrives on campus, ready to participate in various intensive programs that give high school students the chance to get involved in hands-on research.
Rebecca Monastero, a senior from Sayville High School, was accepted into the highly competitive Simons Summer Research Program earlier this year. She is spending the summer examining the effects of seafood consumption and contamination with her mentor, Dr. Jaymie Meliker.
“I had read an article in the newspaper about Dr. Meliker’s study, and I was really interested in joining him,” she said. “I realized that the Simons program would give me a really good opportunity to work with him during the summer.”
The program, established in 1984, allows students to become familiar with research techniques and procedures.
“I don’t know how many models there are for this in the country,” Meliker said. “This might be relatively rare, and I think it’s a good experience for these very high-achieving students.”
Another opportunity for students, the Garcia Materials Science and Engineering pre-college program, runs for seven weeks and teaches students about polymer science – a field that encompasses chemistry, physics, and engineering. It provides a similar experience to the Simons program: high schoolers are paired with mentors, who work with them to develop original research projects.
“Kids get a great experience and a fun experience out of the program,” said Rachel Davis, a former Garcia student who is returning to the program this summer as a mentor. “But they also get the experience necessary for applying to college, or writing a real research paper, getting a job – all these things in the future that will help them in their lives.”
Often, students who participate in these two programs go on to win recognition from contests such as the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. Last year, the Garcia program boasted four semifinalists, two of whom went on to become finalists. The first-place winner, Nithin Tumma, had been a Simons Fellow, as had 10 other semifinalists and five finalists.
But for many students, prestige isn’t the whole goal. “Research is so much about struggling and trying to find something, trying so hard to get to a certain point,” said Rebecca Monastero, who plans to continue with her research throughout the upcoming school year. “And when you get a little bit of something, you’re just super excited, even if it’s not a big breakthrough. For you, it really is a personal accomplishment.”