While many students use summer vacation as an opportunity to earn some extra cash with part-time jobs, or just lounge about until the next school year starts, a handful of Clarke County high school students used this summer to get a head start on careers in science and agriculture.
The seven students — one from Clarke Central High School, six from Cedar Shoals — are among 59 statewide participating in the University of Georgia’s “Young Scholars” program.
Sponsored by UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the program brings in bright Georgia students from throughout the state for a six-week paid internship on UGA campuses in Athens, Tifton and Griffin, where the program began 27 years ago.
The program is run by the college’s Office of Diversity, which tries to recruit students from under-represented groups, but the program is open to any qualified student, said Victoria David, director of the college’s Office of Diversity.
Only about one in three students who apply are accepted, she said.
Roberto Carlos Villanueva, a rising senior at Cedar Shoals High, qualified and spent the summer working in the laboratory of Aaron Thompson, a professor of environmental soil chemistry in the college.
Villanueva got to play a small, but important, role in the research.
Thompson’s research program “focuses on understanding the microscale microbial and geochemical processes that influence macroscale ecosystem processes in soils, sediments and waters,” according to his UGA website.
Villanueva analyzed soils from a South Carolina site for the presence of iron and aluminum.
The internship fits in with Villanueva’s tentative career plans; he’s learning toward a major in chemical engineering.
A member of the Cedar Shoals football team last year, Villanueva said he’s unsure if he will compete this year. He’s planning to concentrate on academics and AP courses in hopes of boosting his scholarship opportunities.
“By getting lab experience, I’m getting ahead of others,” he said.
In addition to improving his scholarship competitiveness, Villanueva said he got a better idea of the “bigger picture” of agriculture.
That’s the kind of talk David likes to hear.
One aim is to show students interested in science that they can pursue scientific interests in the field of agriculture.
“We want to recruit more students into our majors,” David said.
The students who participate learn about scientific- or agriculture-related careers they perhaps didn’t know existed. Many students actually wind up pursuing agriculture-related work, David said.
Another Cedar Shoals student, Lilian Magana, wound up in a UGA lab that conducts stem cell research; an experience that’s pushed her to intensely study science far beyond what she learned in high school.
It’s also opening up possibilities for her, she said.
“I’d really like to come back next year,” she said.
In addition to Villanueva and Magana, Cedar Shoals students participating in this year’s Young Scholars Program are Michael Gabriels, Song Khaing, Eduardo Ricome and Henry Vencill. One Clarke Central student, Mason Bivins, is in the program.