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Middle College students partner with Austin Peay State University professors for real STEM research experience

Katie Li working in Dr. Carol Baskauf’s lab.

(Posted on Monday, May 1, 2023)

Middle College students at Austin Peay State University are getting an opportunity to work on research alongside professors from the College of STEM in a new program called Partners Engaged with Emerging Researchers (PEER).

Brandy Schnettler, a teacher at Middle College, created the program to provide her students with real research experience and explore other STEM career opportunities.

“I wanted them to have real research experience because as a science teacher here, I felt that there was potential for a natural partnership with the APSU faculty,” Schnettler said. “Most of my students that are interested in a career in STEM are not aware of the vast opportunities within those specific fields.”

She hopes that the students will get a clearer idea about what they want to do in college and their careers. Middle College’s mission is to assist students in pursuing post-secondary goals through the immersive college environment.

Schnettler reached out to the College of STEM to be a partner in the program, and the idea was well received by Dr. Karen Meisch, the Dean of the College of STEM, and Dr. Kallina Dunkel, an associate dean of the college and professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Several faculty members responded right away, and they started working on the process of getting the best match for each student.

The program, which will continue into the fall and beyond, pairs juniors and seniors at Middle College with professors in the College of STEM to do research. Few undergraduate college students, let alone high school students, get a chance to work one-on-one with college professors on research.

“Partnering with Middle College on the PEER program is a great way to showcase the collaborative and innovative spirit of Austin Peay State University,” Meisch said. “This program provides a unique opportunity for our college faculty to work with talented high school students, and we hope it will inspire these students to pursue STEM fields in the future.”

‘A win-win’

For the students, it’s a chance to get a head start on their college careers, while the professors get the benefit of working with dedicated and responsible high school students who can help them out in their labs.

“It’s a win-win situation where professors get benefits from high school students who are dedicated and responsible to help them out in their labs, while high school students themselves get this very invaluable experience that you really can’t replicate in other high schools,” said Katie Li, a Middle College senior who is participating in the program and working with biology professor Dr. Carol Baskauf. “The reason why we want to do [the Peer Program] is that we realized that there are so many resources here that we can utilize, especially for the students in Middle College who want to go into a STEM field.”

Maria Prieto-Cubillan, a Middle College junior who is working with earth and environmental sciences professor Dr. Christopher Gentry, hopes to become an environmental scientist and is working with Gentry on a project in the greenway at Austin Peay, where they plan to take core samples of trees and examine injuries and events that have happened there.

“I do think it’s a good opportunity,” Prieto-Cubillan said. “It allows me to do something that I’m passionate about and test what I feel comfortable with in STEM.”

Jolena Cory, a Middle College junior, is interested in pursuing a career in law and hopes to work on a project that is more forensic-based.

“Dr. Pathiranage is helping me find a project that aligns with my interests in becoming a lawyer, and I’m excited to see what we come up with,” Cory said. “This program is truly a unique opportunity for us Middle College students to gain hands-on experience in a research lab, and I’m grateful for the chance to participate.”

Current placements

The following students have been placed (asterisk denotes seniors):

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