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Symposium nurtures students in research skills

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A Defense Department program is giving high school students the support and resources to design and conduct original research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas.

Lynn Smith of the Department of Defense Education activity, director of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium's European region, discussed the program during a March 17 "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military" podcast.

"A Nobel laureate named Julius Axelrod once said, 'Ninety-nine percent of discoveries are made by 1 percent of scientists,'" Ms. Smith said. "It's exactly these kinds of students we're trying to nurture with the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium."

Ms. Smith said the symposium gives students a chance to develop their inquiry and laboratory research skills. Participating students submit a written report of original research and deliver an oral presentation to a panel of judges.

The symposium also offers opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, and interactions with professional scientists, Ms. Smith said.

Several students and mentors taking part in the program joined in podcast to discuss their experiences and their plans.

Jonathan Grant, a student at Menwith Hill School in England, said he has learned to apply the scientific method, other research and observation techniques and scientific writing skills to his life outside the symposium.

Jerri Ontiveros, a junior at Aviano High School in Italy, said she first participated in the program when she was in the 7th grade and has seen benefits that aren't confined to scientific fields of study.

"The whole process -- conducting a project and researching, and presenting (data) -- is a big boost of confidence," she said. "It helps in other subjects at school where you have to present projects, too."

Alfreda Smith, a sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts participated in the program in high school. She found her experience researching and presenting her findings to a large audience to be very helpful when applying to different colleges.

"Completing and presenting my project really gave me an edge over everyone else (trying to get into college)," she said. "Not only did it show I have the motivation and intelligence to complete a research project, but it also comes with the implied knowledge that you know how to present your work and yourself, ... a skill that not many people have."

Ann Webb, from Lajes School in the Azores, has been involved as a teacher in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium for about nine years. The program, she said, has been a great outlet for students.

"They develop skills to be critical thinkers and good writers," she said. "They develop these skills, and public speaking skills, and they're applauded for their efforts."

Ms. Smith said the program fills in where most schools are forced to leave gaps. Schools often have to focus on grade requirements and standardized test score requirements, sticking to strict curricula. The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium provides students the freedom to experiment, to develop their inquisitive minds and learn the skills needed to work in a laboratory, she said.

"It takes time to develop laboratory skills, so they're often left by the wayside," Ms. Smith noted. "We aim to widen the pool of trained talent to conduct research that is vital to our nation."

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