Young Scholars in the Lab: Plugging Into Future Careers in Energy Technology
Thirty-three high school studentshad the opportunity to conduct research projects in energy technology with faculty and graduate students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) in 2014. This activity is offered annually as part of the Young Scholars Program (YSP) of the Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), a collaboration between academia, industry, and national laboratories that is co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy and headquartered at UTK.
YSP was created to encourage students entering grades 8-12 to investigate and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by actively participating in research projects with practicing engineers. Almost all of the 33 the students participating in 2014 expressed strong interest in majoring in the STEM fields in college—and about half are young women, an encouraging trend in increasing diversity in STEM professions.
CURENT works with partner high schools to recruit talented rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors as Young Scholars in the Center's research labs. As part of a K-12 work program or out of personal interest, successful applicants work with graduate students and professors to conduct research projects during the summer or after school during the fall. In keeping with CURENT’s mission, most research topics are about electrical engineering or computer science, although they can range to nanomaterial development and biomedical engineering.
Recruitment for CURENT’s summer 2015 YSP program produced ten female and six male participants. Of note, over 90% of applications were from young women. YSP is one of CURENT’s pre-college education programs. In 2015, 13 middle and high school teachers (more than half women) participated in CURENT’s Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program. CURENT also was selected by NSF to conduct a hands-on electricity demonstration at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, which was extremely popular. CURENT has published several journal articles on these activities.