A Scientific Showcase

Kyle Mou, a senior at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, presents his research at the BEST summer symposium.

By Frank Radosevich II
August 13, 2012

Kyle Mou spent his summer working in the cabbage patch.

A senior at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, the high school student was not a farmhand but participated in Bradley’s BEST program. During the summer he worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to test the durability and effectiveness of biological pesticides on cabbage plants.

“I like the feeling of knowing that I am discovering something that no one else knows. Just the idea that you are working on a project that’s new,” the 16-year-old Peoria native said about the research project. “I learned a lot over the summer; it was pretty valuable.”

Mou was one of 15 high school students and two undergraduate students that spent the summer in Peoria area research labs working on a wide range of projects in conjunction with the BEST program.

BEST, which stands for “Building Excellent Scientists for Tomorrow,” is an annual outreach effort by Bradley that pairs high school and undergraduate students alongside top-level scientific researchers. Students on the program learn first-hand about the scientific research process, work side-by-side with professionals and receive training in research methods, ethics and safety.

The 10-week internship program wrapped up this year with participants sharing their research. Six students gave oral presentations at the Aug. 10 symposium.

For his project, Mou and two other researchers at the USDA sprayed cabbages with different forms of biological pesticides, which easily degrade out in the open, and then exposed the plants to water and sunlight. The group then examined the plants to see how much of the pesticide remained and how effective it was at killing a cabbage looper, a larvae that feeds on the vegetation.

“It’s a chance for them to showcase their research to their peers and other professors,” said Vanessa Vierneza, a senior studying biology at Bradley who is the peer-mentor coordinator for the BEST program. She said the program gives students a deeper understanding of what science is all about by placing them in a laboratory.

“The program gives them a chance to work with professors and see what scientific research really is,” said Vierneza, a native of Des Plaines, Ill. “It’s different from when you are reading a textbook; you are actually experiencing the research.”

Some students find their new passion through BEST, said Susie Stear, project specialist for the Center for STEM Education. She said the program makes science accessible by providing Bradley students as a bridge between the professionals and teenagers.

“If there was no bridge between the high school students and the actual researcher, they would be intimidated,” she said.

Stear added that many BEST students return and can eventually attend Bradley to continue their research.

“Hopefully this will spark their interest and many of them will want to return and do a different project next year,” she said. “Once they feel comfortable and know that they can, they strive for greater things in the future.”