On a blindingly sunny day on the Bayfront behind College Hall, groups of middle- and high school students boarded New College’s marine biology research boat for trips out onto the Bay.
There, they measured the bay’s salinity, temperature and pH, and collected plankton to examine in the labs at Pritzker Marine Research Center.
It’s just part of a day in PUSH/SUCCESS, a program for students from demographics typically under-represented in science, now in its 15th year.
Students receive two weeks of intensive science training, from collecting samples to running experiments to preparing reports and presentations on their work.
Among their activities:
- Collecting water and plankton samples from the New College research boat
- Using microscopes to study the effects of oils and toxins on shrimp and sea urchins
- Running experiments on DNA, bioluminescence, photosynthesis and pollutants
- Learning basics of electronic circuits and computer coding
- Programming and testing submersible robots in the New College pool
Along the way, Dr. Sandra Gilchrist, professor of biology and the program’s director, and her assistants teach students about the scientific method, graphing and writing lab reports. They also create PowerPoint presentations and podcasts about their research.
One afternoon in Pritzker’s LETRA, as Florida fish swim idly in the background, Gilchrist discussed her own research on hermit crabs as a way to introduce the scientific method.
“We make an educated guess with a funny name – the hypothesis,” she says. “I can say octopuses supply shells for hermit crabs.”
She describes how to set up an experiment to test the hypothesis, and then everything that comes next in the process. “You have to know something about computer programming and statistics to analyze the data,” she said.
That’s exactly what would they be doing in the program, and it would help them in school and in the future. “You’re going to be ahead of the curve.”
From there, they jump into a discussion of their upcoming brine shrimp experiment – that sunscreen affects the organism, or that it does not. They would track the division and development of the egg cells under a video electron microscope.
In addition to working with New College faculty and staff, students also learn about science careers from people like Sarasota physician Dr. Lisa Merritt, an advocate for better healthcare access for underserved communities.
The high school students participate in programs on leadership, and the program includes a workshop for students’ parents on planning for college. The program concludes with students’ presentation of projects and a graduation ceremony.
PUSH (Preparing Unique Students for Healthcare careers) is for students in grades 9 through 11. SUCCESS (Students United to Create Culturally and Educationally Successful Situations) is for students in grades 6 through 8. Both programs focus on typical, not gifted, students. Most students receive free or reduced-price lunch at their schools.