Aug. 25, 2016

Grade 11 students contribute to cutting-edge health research on campus

Heritage Youth Summer Program pairs teens with UCalgary faculty mentors for hands-on experience
Participants in the 2016 UCalgary-Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program unveiled their research project at an event at the Foothill campus on Aug. 23, 2016. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Participants in the 2016 UCalgary-Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program unveiled their res

Twenty-two exceptional high school students experienced a different summer than most as they embarked on a six-week intensive summer science program at the University of Calgary where they were mentored by leading experts in medical and health research. For some of these bright achievers, this experience will help define the direction they wish to take with their future careers — allowing them to make a difference in Alberta, Canada or beyond.

The students participated in the UCalgary-Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program and on Aug. 23, 2016, they unveiled their research projects — in the form of posters — in the atrium at the Foothills campus to a crowd of over 200 supporters. The celebration included students, supervisors, lab members, high school science and math teachers, MLAs, friends, family, and community members who all gained insights into the research each student completed during the program.

The variety of student projects allowed for several faculties to participate in the program including medicine, engineering, nursing, arts, kinesiology, and science. From 3D modelling of the human genome, to immigrant and refugee health research, to obesity’s impact on the musculoskeletal system — students had the chance to participate in numerous projects related to the real issues of today.

'Offering young researchers exceptional experiences'

For six weeks, these southern Alberta students worked in biomedical and/or health-related research laboratories at the university. In recognizing the importance of this program, a statement from Deron Bilous, Alberta Minister of Economic Trade, said, “The enthusiasm of these young researchers and their accomplishments is impressive. It’s clear that the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program is offering young people exceptional experiences that can spark future success in medicine, life sciences and other research that could benefit all Albertans.”

Minister Bilous went on to say, "One of the things that has always set Alberta apart, is our spirit of collaboration. The Heritage Youth Researcher Summer program is a classic example of how exceptional leaders mentoring dedicated students can push the frontiers of knowledge to address health issues that touch everyone's lives. The collaborative spirit of HYRS is another way Alberta's future will be in good hands."

Corrina Fowlow, a Grade 11 student at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, was supervised by Professor David Cramb from the Faculty of Science, Department of Chemistry. She had plenty to say about the benefits of the program. “The best thing about HYRS was that it was so well balanced — I got to work in the lab but also got to do many things outside the lab like field trips and events and getting to know other students, she said. “There were 21 other soon-to-be Grade 12 students like me, and you build some great relationships over six weeks. You get other people who are also interested in science and have similar interests to you.”

Opportunity to meet other students with similar interests

Regarding her aspirations for the future, she stated, “I think I would like to work with bio or chem maybe in the medical field or pharmaceutical. Before HRYS I was definitely leaning more towards bio but the program helped me better appreciate chemistry and I now have a new found interest in it.”

With the support of Alberta Innovates–Health Solutions, the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program (AIHS-HYRS) was launched in 2000 and has produced over 350 exceptional graduates — many who have gone on to pursue careers in medicine and related fields. The HYRS program is designed for motivated Grade 11 students in Alberta high schools to gain first-hand experience with biomedical and health research, and to introduce them to career opportunities in research.

"The University of Calgary has been a HYRS partner for 17 years, and we have welcomed hundreds of high school students into our labs during that time,” says Dr. John Reynolds, acting vice-president (research). “The enduring value of this program is apparent in the exceptional young students who have gone on to build their own careers in health research and innovation, including the many HYRS alumni who have come back to us as students, clinicians and researchers."

Program influences career choices

The program was designed to enable Grade 11 students throughout the province to gain hands-on research experience at university laboratories in Alberta with the aim to build a foundation for the students’ further success in the Summer Studentship Program and encourage further education and careers in health research.

In a 2008 survey, respondents from the 2000-2004 cohorts reported a 100-per-cent rate of pursuing post-secondary education after participating in HYRS and 75.5 per cent reported that participating in HYRS influenced their career choices/aspirations.