Written by Lauren Horn, project imple­men­ta­tion coor­di­nator, Center for STEM Education

Wen­zheng Yu spends long days in a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity chem­ical engi­neering lab­o­ra­tory, inves­ti­gating an electro-​​active chem­ical called pyocyanin, a mol­e­cule pro­duced by many strains in a family of bacteria.

Yu speaks elo­quently about the impor­tance of his research, which allows doc­tors to easily and accu­rately detect the pres­ence of bac­teria in patients.

And he is only a high school student.

Yu, a rising senior year at Quincy High School, is one of more than two dozen stu­dents in Northeastern’s Young Scholars Pro­gram, which offers future sci­en­tists and engi­neers in Boston-​​area high schools paid research posi­tions in uni­ver­sity labs.

Many stu­dents will work with fac­ulty affil­i­ated with Northeastern’s Bernard M. Gordon Center for Sub­sur­face Sensing and Imaging Sys­tems (Gordon CenSSIS); the Center for High Rate Nanoman­u­fac­turing (CHN); and the ALERT (Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explosives-​​Related Threats) Center. All of the stu­dents will have the chance to par­tic­i­pate in sem­i­nars on career explo­ration and take field trips to a variety of cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment sites to see and speak with engi­neers in action.

Yu works in the lab of chem­ical engi­neering assis­tant pro­fessor Edgar Goluch. “Our group’s research is much more exten­sive than labs con­ducted at my school,” Yu said of his lab work. “I enjoy working in my lab envi­ron­ment. I was exposed to many sophis­ti­cated instru­ments from inte­grated Pal­la­dium Hydride ref­er­ence elec­trodes to micropipette.”

The Young Scholars Pro­gram places pairs of stu­dents in 13 campus research labs. Often, the lab teams also include K–12 edu­ca­tors and com­mu­nity col­lege fac­ulty who par­tic­i­pate in the Research Expe­ri­ences for Teachers pro­gram. Both pro­grams are coor­di­nated by Claire Duggan of Northeastern’s Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion and funded by the Linde Family Foun­da­tion and other gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate donors.

Yu stressed the role of North­eastern grad­uate stu­dents in facil­i­tating his learning expe­ri­ence, noting that uni­ver­sity stu­dents pro­vide the Young Scholars with sup­port and research context.

Goluch said his lab ben­e­fits from the work of the bud­ding sci­en­tists in the pro­gram. “My grad­uate stu­dents and I have learned quite a lot from the scholars,” he said. “The grad stu­dents learn how to com­mu­ni­cate about their research, which is an incred­ibly impor­tant skill.”

I believe that get­ting stu­dents excited about engi­neering at a young age is vital to increasing the number of stu­dents grad­u­ating with STEM degrees in the U.S and improving the overall tech­no­log­ical lit­eracy of our pop­u­la­tion,” he explained. “So few people know what researchers and pro­fes­sors actu­ally do. This pro­gram is a great way to edu­cate stu­dents about how things we see and use every day are often dis­cov­ered or invented.”