High school students from the USC TRiO Educational Talent Search program recently visited the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, where they toured state-of-the-art laboratories and received advice from USC undergraduates participating in aging research. The goal of the TRiO program is to help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education and the field trip to the Leonard Davis School aimed to encourage them to see themselves as future students and scientists.
“Most of our students come from underrepresented backgrounds and we want to give them exposure to students doing university research and to ensure that they can see that it’s possible for them too,” said TRiO director Judy Fillarca. “Our goal is to make them inspired and hopeful.”
The high school students heard from a panel of undergraduate scholars from USC’s GEMSTEM program, an NIA-funded program designed to provide opportunities to emerging researchers from diverse backgrounds and to increase the number of researchers working to reduce health disparities in older adult populations. Each GEMSTEM student presented their research and passed along valuable guidance, including encouragement to be true to oneself, avoid comparisons, remain curious, and embrace failure.
GEMSTEM students also shared the degree of support they received from faculty mentors, not only in research but also in academics and personal growth.
“You always have someone in your corner,” said Aaliyah Thomas, a GEMSTEM scholar conducting social science research on centenarians in the Ailshire Research Group at the USC Leonard Davis School. “The cool thing about research is there is so much to study. You can literally do anything.”
In addition to gaining an understanding that scientific investigations encompass many topics, the students also learned that options to participate in research can be available to anyone with an interest.
Maria Oorloff, a first-year transfer student and GEMSTEM scholar working in the Sanabria Lab recounted how she learned to conduct and present research despite never being exposed to it before coming to USC.
“When I was in high school, we didn’t have labs, and I’d never even seen a beaker or pipette,” said Oorloff. “My mentor worked with me one-on-one to figure out a plan that suits me and now I want to continue to do research.”
Hearing from students like Maria helped the students feel like there is a place for them in labs and at schools like USC.
“Some of them don’t even have a research background and for them to now have an interest in it, made me have an interest too,” said TRiO student Rich Lopez.
“After hearing everyone present, I realized they are just people,” added fellow student David Miguel. “It gave me the confidence to actually be able to apply to this school.”