Rock Springs High School Student Develops Research Skills Through UW Program

July 17, 2012
Student working in lab
Kassidee Brown, a recent Rock Springs High School graduate, measures a coprolite (fossilized rodent droppings) sample during the Summer Research Apprentice Program at the University of Wyoming. (UW Photo)

A field trip last school year to learn more about the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources program has helped Kassidee Brown narrow her career interests.

The recently graduated Rock Springs High School student was involved in her school’s Energy Resource Academy, but was undecided what her academic goals would be. She knew that college was a choice, but what to study was a different matter.

During the UW field trip, Brown learned about a UW summer program -- the Summer Research Apprentice Program (SRAP), an intensive, six-week, paid summer research program for students who have completed their sophomore year of high school. Current high school juniors and seniors, such as Brown, also are eligible for the UW program.

“The program sounded awesome and it looked like a good opportunity for me because I thought it would help me narrow down my interests or field of what I wanted to study,” she says.

Brown plans to enroll this fall in her hometown Western Wyoming Community College and work on her associate of science degree before transferring to UW. The SRAP experience has helped Brown narrow her career choices to the renewable resources or environmental protection fields.

SRAP began in 1985 to provide minorities, first-generation college (neither parent completed college), and female students the opportunity to gain a meaningful first-hand experience in science, mathematics, engineering or other related science research.

SRAP stimulates interest in science careers and is a valuable opportunity to gain first-hand experience in research at UW, says Lisa Abeyta, SRAP project coordinator. Side benefits include exposure to workplace expectations, educational and cultural opportunities on a college campus and team-building and problem-solving activities for participants.

“I want high school students to know that even though they may be the first in their family to go to college, it is not impossible. College it is an attainable goal,” she says.

Program participants are chosen primarily from the Rocky Mountain region, but others from across the United States also have applied for the annual summer program at UW. This summer, 16 students from six states are working on research projects.

Based on their interest, participants are paired with a UW professor or post-doctoral researchers and spend their days in the laboratory performing various research experiments. Among available research areas of interest offered to students are chemistry, energy research, ecology, botany, molecular biology, mathematics, statistics, engineering, nursing and psychology.

Brown is working in the Earth Science laboratory with mentors Mark Clementz, UW Department of Geology and Geophysics associate professor, and graduate student Eric Lightner of Denver.

Clementz and Lightner have helped Brown research the history of coprolites (fossilized rodent droppings) collected from the Lost Canyon Cave near the Wyoming border in southern Montana .

Using a caliper, Brown measures the tiny rodent droppings -- some dating back tens of thousands of years -- to determine the size of the species. Analyzing coprolites also will tell what the climate was at that particular time, Brown says.

“I am having a great experience being in the program,” she says. “We are kept busy each day, but we’re also having a lot of fun. I definitely would recommend this program to other students.”

SRAP students will present their research work in front of class members, family and invited guests during the program’s final day Friday, July 20.

The program is funded by the Wyoming National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) through the National Science Foundation grant.


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