An Introduction to the World of Research

An Introduction to the World of Research

Prestigious science institute ignites young people’s passion for scientific inquiry
By Crystal L. Keels

Courses in advanced theory. Conducting research projects with top-notch professors. Guest lectures from Nobel Prize winners. Sounds like the life of a graduate student, but it was actually how 75 outstanding high school students from around the world spent six weeks of their summer vacation.
Lynwood Walker and Dawn Mackey, both 17, were two of those students who converged on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to participate in the highly competitive and prestigious Research Science Institute (RSI), an intensive academic program in mathematics, science and engineering for high school students sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE).
“Magical” is the word Walker uses to describe his experience at RSI. Mackey expresses similar sentiments as she reflects on the program. “The most rewarding aspect was having the opportunity to meet, live with, and learn from an amazing group of students and staff who love science and math as much as I do,” she says.
Established in 1984, RSI provides third-year high school students, who are chosen on the basis of their academic achievement, an introduction to the world of research and a foundation upon which to build their professional careers. 
“RSI students can best be described as humble individuals who do extraordinary things, kids united under an unfathomable passion for scientific inquiry” says Walker, who conducted his summer research at the Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory at MIT. Beginning his senior year this fall at Hahnville High School in Boutte, La., Walker says he was exhilarated by the experience.
“This really provided me with an opportunity to see exactly what research really is,” he says. “I loved every minute of it — late nights in the lab, analyzing data, performing tests — all of it.”
Indeed, one of the program’s primary goals is to identify individuals who have the potential to become leaders in their fields and equip them for academic pursuit. To that end, program applicants are required to have minimum PSAT scores of 75 in math (49 is the average score) and 140 combined in math and verbal (48 is the average score). Once in the program, RSI students receive expert encouragement, guidance and mentoring, and through study, research and interaction with each other become a cohesive group of young scholars and members of the larger scientific community.
“It is rare to find so many people my age who have such an interest in science,” Mackey says about her RSI colleagues at MIT. “They are all very interesting to talk to because they are so knowledgeable in various fields and impassioned about many topics, including the humanities and politics as well as the sciences.”
As a youngster Mackey excelled in mathematics at the Long Island School for the Gifted in Huntington Station, N.Y., and during high school in the Half Hollow Hills School District in Dix Hills, N.Y. She says she plans to attend Harvard University after high school graduation and plans more immediately to enter her RSI research project in scientific competitions including the Siemens Westinghouse competition and the Intel Science Talent Search. She also adds that initially she planned to pursue a medical degree, but after her RSI experience, sees a broader picture.
Mackey credits exposure to the varied interests of her peers at RSI for adding further dimensions to her own. “Learning about the other students’ interests and projects introduced me to new fields of science I never knew were interesting,” she says. “Now more than ever I am learning that there are many more career options that benefit society than I ever knew existed.”
 Walker, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and go into research, also notes the benefits of communing with other RSI participants. “I have definitely learned that all science is important and fun and interesting and means so much to so many people,” he says. “Though I will always love physics more than any other field of study, especially after my own research experience, my respect for other fields has definitely increased as a result of my contact with other (students).”
Dr. Jagadeesh Moodera, who served this summer as Walker’s mentor, comments on the young man’s enthusiasm, quest for knowledge and commitment as he explains that Walker could be found in the lab well into the night. Moodera says Walker was a wonderful student who was energized by the challenges presented to him during the program and met those challenges in an exemplary fashion.
“His future is very bright as a scientist,” Moodera says. “How many more Lyns might be out there waiting, I wonder…”
The Center for Excellence in Education was established in 1983 by the late Admiral H.G. Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy, and Joann DiGennaro, current CEE president. The organization’s mission is to ensure the future viability of U.S. competitiveness in math, science and engineering on the world stage by nurturing young people interested in these fields.
For information on RSI, visit <www.cee.org>. 



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