Outreach director cultivates potential scientists

The garden cultivator must properly plant, water and nurture the young saplings for them to grow straight and strong. Marti Lindsey does not literally grow trees, but she likes the metaphor. She says she’s planting the seed of science in the minds and hearts of young students.

Lindsey, PhD, is director of community outreach for the College of Pharmacy's Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC). In that role, she is also co-director of Keep Engaging Youth in Science (KEYS), a high school student research internship program. KEYS is co-directed by Heather Ingram of the BIO5 Institute.

KEYS is a summer internship for high school students from diverse backgrounds. The students enroll in the University of Arizona for seven weeks during their summer break.

After a week of intensive laboratory training, they spend six exciting weeks in the laboratory with a notable UA researcher. The BIO5 Institute and the SWEHSC oversee all activities of the KEYS Research Internship. Almost half of the students work with members of SWEHSC.

“Many parents have said that this program is life-changing for their children,” says Lindsey. “We catch these young ones when they’re 16. This is the time when they make a lot of important choices that could change their lives.”

Lindsey has personal experience with the benefits of such programs.

“When I was 16, I got the opportunity to go to a chemistry camp. I started on a chemistry project which became my science project which won the city’s science fair.”

This experience helped her to become comfortable with her interest in science and is the reason she passionately feels her responsibility to helping and nurturing school-age students.

“The end product is to get students into programs like KEYS,” Lindsey explains. “All throughout the school year, I’m doing recruiting for KEYS. To do that, I go out and talk to the students about toxicology, about the College of Pharmacy. For the more advanced student, I talk to them about their own research design.”

There are about 10 or 12 high schools in the area that have a biotechnology course of study. Lindsey travels to these and other schools, talking with teachers and students in her recruitment efforts.

“We had one kid who was definitely marginal when I first met her,” Lindsey reflects. “But I knew that she had the spark of science in her. Before KEYS, she was not going to go to college. That was not on her radar. But after going through the program, she decided to go to college.”

What goals does Lindsey have for the future? If she can get funding for it, she would like to begin the ToxStart program again. ToxStart was a week-long summer camp sponsored by the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center. Many schools, especially in underserved areas and American Indian reservations, do not have the academic advantages of biotechnology and so they’re not prepared to be in a lab. However, freshmen and sophomores from these schools could attend ToxStart and prepare for more advanced programs like KEYS.

See the KEYS website for more information about the program. 

Story and photo by Larry Hogan Jr.

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