Baylor Sciences Building Attracting Top High School Science Students
by Judy Long
Recognizing the need to provide early opportunities for potential researchers, Baylor University has offered a summer program for outstanding high school scientists since 1991, but this year's young researchers are the first group with a majority declaring Baylor as their top choice for college--and the difference is the newly opened Baylor Sciences Building.
For more than a decade, exceptional high school students have joined Baylor scientists and their teams during the summer to work on research projects. The high school students are treated like other members of the team, sharing in responsibilities and attending seminars, in addition to participating in social and recreational activities with the other high school students.
Ten students, nominated by their high school science teachers or applying individually, are selected for the program each summer from high schools throughout the United States. Of the 10 in the high school science program, maybe one or two would eventually call Baylor their university home.
This year, however, seven of the 10 students expressed an interest to returning to Baylor for college study, said Dr. Lee Nordt, associate dean for sciences, who directs the program.
"More than half of them of them did so after seeing the new sciences building. My records show that we have never been able to interest more than one or two students in any particular summer to come to Baylor. The building finally did it."
Faculty began moving in June into the new $103 million, 508,000-square-foot Baylor Sciences Building, which will open for classes in the fall. The four-story facility enhances Baylor's long tradition of excellence in the sciences and medical education and consolidates the science disciplines of chemistry, biology, geology, physics and neuroscience. In addition to world-class classrooms, lecture halls, and teaching and research laboratories, the building's multi-story design intentionally emphasizes opportunities for communication between faculty members and students.
The purposes of the summer science program are to familiarize students and teachers with Baylor's science programs, to promote science and math to outstanding students and to bring outstanding students to the campus in hopes that some will stay.
Chemistry professor Kevin Pinney, one of Baylor's top researchers, invites high school scientists into his lab every summer. Pinney says early research opportunities whet appetites for careers in basic research science.
"We feel we have responsibility to foster interest in the sciences and with the new building, we can do that even better. Of course, we like to take advantage of the opportunity to interest them in Baylor, too," Pinney said.
"We try to provide a first-rate science experience for these students, to whet their enthusiasm, but the second focus has been to encourage them to come to Baylor. These are the finest high school students--self-motivated and hard working. It's a pleasure to work with them. One student this year, Nathan Grohmann, told me he couldn't think of another experience that had impacted his life so much. He said he'd be back in the fall of 2005."
"The building is phenomenal. It's a major incentive to come to Baylor," Grohmann said.
Nordt said the building also was a pivotal factor in recruiting new geology professor Dr. Stephen Driese. After touring the building, Driese told Nordt, "That did it. I'm coming." Driese, who comes from the University of Tennessee, will chair Baylor's geology department.
"I have no doubt that the new science building will continue to reap enormous benefits," Nordt said.