October 2011

Fostering diversity in science and public science literacy

The Young Scientist Program in Washington University at St. Louis has a history of changing lives through inspiration and scientific discovery  

Bart Bartlett is an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. When Bartlett was in high school in St. Louis, he was one of the first participants in the Young Scientist Program. Today he is initiating a similar program at his institution.

Bart Bartlett was a junior in 1995 at Metro Academic and Classical High School in St. Louis when his science teacher put him in touch with an M.D./Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis who was interested in bringing high school students into his thesis laboratory.

The graduate student, James McCarter, was one of the founders of the Young Scientist Program, which brings scientific laboratory experiences directly to underprivileged middle- and high-school students and their teachers. Bartlett was in one of the first cohorts.

While Bartlett had taken science courses, this was his first exposure to research in a laboratory. Over the course of the summer, Bartlett performed an independent research project doing genetic analysis in the model organism C. elegans, a small worm.           

Bartlett says the most important part of the experience was working in the lab as part of a team.

“I learned by experience how the scientific method works to do cutting-edge research,” he says. “Knowing that scientists work together and have a lot of fun doing it reinforced a career in science."

The experience changed his life. Bartlett went on to study chemistry in college, earn a Ph.D., do postdoctoral research and become an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. He credits much of this success to the program and is currently initiating a similar one at his institution.

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