BEST Getting Better

Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin works with high school students Nicole Happ, left, and Ashley Hudson, right.

By Frank Radosevich II
July 20, 2012

Sixteen-year-olds are not normally mistaken for graduate students. But when they work alongside Bradley faculty collecting and analyzing data, the mix-up is understandable.

Though still in high school, Ashley Hudson and Nicole Happ have been confused for master’s students as they help carry out neurological research this summer with Bradley’s Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin.

Happ and Hudson are working with Dr. Russell-Chapin at the Center for Collaborative Brain Research with the BEST program. Their summer research includes graphing and analyzing data as well as undergoing some of the same neuro-feedback tests Dr. Russell-Chapin runs on patients. Both students will join about 20 other BEST interns in presenting their research during an Aug. 10 symposium and said their experience working on campus has been invaluable.

“I was interested in neuroscience; it’s what I want to major in and that’s what really drew me in to the program,” said Happ of Monticello, Ill. “I wanted to get a head start in the research so when I get to college as a freshman, I’ll have that extra step and gain more opportunities.”

The BEST (Building Excellent Scientists for Tomorrow) program pairs area high school students with researchers in Bradley science labs and other partnering institutions. The program targets underrepresented groups in science and math fields at a young age to solidify and increase their academic interest in those areas.

In its eighth year, the 10-week internship program has grown and now offers internships in clinical research and sustainability — Clinical Research Experiences for Students (CREST) and Research Internships for a Sustainable Environment (RISE).

“It’s very fun to be a mentor and encourage students, females especially, to go into science fields,” said Dr. Russell-Chapin, co-director for the brain center. This was her first year working with students under the CREST project.

“They have been extremely helpful and I’ve tried to give them a broad-based experience. I think it’s an incredible opportunity,” she said.

The high school students who participate in the BEST program go on to graduate and attend college, with most seeking degrees in science, math or engineering fields. Many former interns choose Bradley as their university and serve as undergraduate or graduate mentors to high school students.

Dr. Kelly McConnaughay, BEST program director and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the new CREST and RISE categories expose teenagers to new, cutting-edge fields of study that otherwise they might not experience.

“We try to push the high school students out of their comfort zones and make them realize they can do it,” said Dr. McConnaughay, who is also the co-director of the Center for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Education at Bradley.

Happ said her time spent on campus with Bradley’s faculty has reaffirmed her passion for studying science.

“I’m reading about all this neuroscience and actually seeing it firsthand and thinking, ‘Wow, this is really awesome,’” she said.