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The Research Apprenticeship Program Celebrates 20 Years of Success

EPA and Shaw University team up to engage students in science, math, and engineering.

Mentor and Apprentice

“The Shaw-EPA Research Apprenticeship Program has been an excellent program for me throughout high school.  The internship provided me with meaningful, real-world research experience and helped me become aware of many career opportunities for people with my interests,” says James Turner, a 2010 graduate of the Research Apprenticeship Program (RAP).

The program engages minority students in science and engineering.  2010 marks 20 years of collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Shaw University, a historically black university in Raleigh, NC.

The program provides scientific instruction outside of the traditional school curriculum to spark students’ interest in science, math, and engineering and encourage them to pursue advanced degrees in related disciplines. This is achieved through a curriculum that maximizes exposure to scientific concepts and research.

Students are nominated as eighth graders by guidance counselors, principals, and math and science teachers.  Each year, ten to fifteen students are selected for the program from a pool of 80 to 120 applicants. “I felt as though it was an honor and a great privilege to be a part of the program. Having exposure to college students, professors and EPA scientists was a major experience for a rising ninth grader,” says LeRon Celeste Jackson, M.D., a 1998 graduate of the program.

The students apprentice for six weeks with an EPA scientist for their final summer and just before their senior year of high school.  At the end of the apprenticeship program, students present their research to an audience of mentors, friends, parents, fellow students, and scientists.

The program not only instills technical abilities in its students; it also enhances the students’ motivation and desire to achieve. Dr. Jackson reflects on this aspect of her experience, “Entering the program was a life changing series of events as I became entrenched with a group of like minded, motivated kids who wanted to explore and succeed in academics.”

EPA provides funding, coordinates the application process, and presents monthly seminars during the academic year. The Agency also coordinates the summer program, including final presentations and tours of EPA labs and other research facilities.  

Kelly Leovic, RAP Project Officer from 1996 to 2008, appreciates the enthusiasm and knowledge students bring to the EPA campus.  "These students are always so well prepared, both in science and in communication skills, that they are often mistaken for college (not high school) students while at EPA.  They learn the required lab skills quickly and then effectively communicate their experiences in a fabulous closing program.  The students also serve as positive role models for their peers when they return to their Wake County, NC high schools during the academic year."

In its 20 years, more than 120 students have completed the program.  An astounding one hundred percent of those students have finished college, and of those, 90% have majored in science, math, or engineering. 57% have continued on to graduate or professional school.  Participants have co-authored peer-reviewed journal articles based on research conducted while working at EPA, been employed at EPA in subsequent summers, been selected into competitive schools and research programs, and been the recipients of over half a million dollars in scholarships and grants.

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