USC Young Researchers Program: Underrepresented High Schoolers Conduct Independent Research Projects with PhD Student Mentors

Monday 4:30pm-6:00pm SERC Building - Atrium | Poster #7
Poster Session Part of Monday Poster Session


Ryley Tibbetts, University of Southern California
Layla Vasquez, University of Southern California
Rebecca Stark, University of Southern California

Founded in 2009, the University of Southern California's (USC) Young Researchers Program (YRP) is a graduate student-run program that recruits motivated rising high school seniors from local low-income (Title I) schools in Central Los Angeles for a six-week mentored summer research experience at USC. Our mission is to increase interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields among students traditionally underrepresented in STEM, as well as encourage college preparedness and awareness for science careers. Students are matched with a PhD student mentor to conduct independent, hands-on scientific research projects in a discipline of their choice (e.g., Earth sciences, neuroscience, marine biology, physics, computer science, and others) for 15-20 hours per week. Graduate student mentors design each project and teach their mentees any relevant background information and necessary laboratory and/or field techniques. Students attend weekly college prep seminars, a college application writing workshop, a scientific career panel, and field trips to two active research institutions: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and the USC Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability on Santa Catalina Island, California. After six weeks, YRP students gather to present their research findings in a summative poster symposium, open to their families, friends, teachers, mentors, funding agencies, and the entire USC community. Here, we detail our program design, recruitment strategies, organizational structure, and operational budget (~$25,000 annually) to inspire and provide a framework for the implementation of similar programs at other universities.