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Top High School STEM Students Spend Summer Learning at Kean

High school students researched STEM topics from medicinal chemistry to machine learning during the summer research program at Kean.

High school students conducted research in areas ranging from analytical chemistry to developmental biology, during the summer research program at Kean.

High-achieving math and science students from high schools throughout New Jersey spent much of their summer vacation at Kean University, doing hands-on research in areas ranging from analytical chemistry to computational mathematics.

The 55 students, all of whom plan to pursue education in STEM fields, spent six weeks in the Group Summer Scholars Research Program held at the New Jersey Center for Science and Technology (NJCSTM.) They attended seminars; worked with faculty mentors and research assistants; and ultimately, presented posters on topics they worked on.

Afterwards, many said they will consider returning to Kean as college students.

“This was definitely valuable. If I do come here, I’ll be able to go straight into research,” said Tyra Redwood, 16, of Long Branch, a junior at Voyagers’ Community School in Eatontown. Tyra, who wants to be a doctor, took the 6:35 a.m. train from Long Branch every morning to get to Kean for the program. Her research team worked on using medicinal chemistry to battle cancer.

The students were selected from among 173 applicants. In addition to excelling in math and science, nearly half came from diverse backgrounds, and almost 40 percent received financial aid or scholarships to offset the program’s tuition. 

At Kean, they were divided into small research teams paired with faculty mentors and research assistants. At the end of the program, families were invited to a closing ceremony and luncheon, where they watched students present their research and findings.

“This program does more than just ignite the spark of interest in STEM. It helps students understand the depth of knowledge and creativity that goes into solving complex problems,” said NJCSTM Associate Dean for Research Michael J . Tocci, Ph.D. He added that by the end of the six weeks, students are “truly knowledgeable” about their research.

“It opens students’ eyes and imagination to what real scientific discovery is about,” Tocci said.

Research ranged from using artificial intelligence to predict crime and arrests, to employing bioanalytical techniques to study plants that show medicinally important properties. Many students said it went well beyond what they’re used to in high school.

Stanley Zhu, 16, of Whippany Park High School, and Rahul Shah, 16, of Belleville High School, used NASA data to develop a virtual reality application that visualized the location of the 2019 solar eclipse. “It was really interesting. In a normal classroom, you never go this in-depth,” Stanley said.

Family members listened intently and took pictures as they watched their students present at the program’s closing day ceremony. 

“Everyone is so proud of him,” said Drashti Shah, 27, of Belleville, who watched her brother, Rahul. “Now he knows what he wants to study in the future.”

NJCSTM Managing Assistant Director Marianne Gass  said the program has grown since it began in 2015, and a number of high school students who completed the summer program have enrolled as students at Kean. 

She added that the Kean graduate and undergraduates who serve as research assistants benefit as well, gaining experience by leading and working with the younger students. “It’s something they can put on their resume,” she said.