Huntington Duo are Partners
for the Future
Andrew Ku and Holly Flores are serious students and two of the leading scholars in Huntington High School's Class of 2012. The duo's days, nights and weekends typically include hours of studying as they pursue their academic interests with energy and enthusiasm.
The two teenagers are taking on a new challenge, conducting research through the Cold Spring Harbor Lab's Partners for the Future program. "We are thrilled that Andrew and Holly will be studying and conducting research with leading scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Lab's world class facilities," Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said.
The Partners for Future program is open to all 126 Long Island school districts and most of them compete to place students in the world renowned lab. The grueling selection process eventually narrows the field to a relatively small group of semi-finalists who are then subjected to short intense interviews by a group of administrators and scientists to determine their level of commitment about joining and fully participating with a research team.
Original Biomedical Research
Mr. Ku and Ms. Flores will have an opportunity to conduct original biomedical research in some of the best facilities in the world. Mr. Ku will work with Hyun Jae Pi and Ms. Flores will conduct research with Mike Feigin. The program will continue through March 31. Participants are required to spend at least ten hours per week at the Lab, although most spend far more time there.
Applications for the program were due in March. "We heard back from the Lab in the middle of May," Mr. Ku said. "The semi-finalists went to an interview session at the Lab on June 7. I think the interview part was the most difficult part of the whole application process. It lasted more than two and a half hours."
Each of the semi-finalists was interviewed by the program director, program administrator and nine scientists. "The program administrator asked me questions like 'What was your proudest moment?' and 'What do you do in your free time that's unrelated to science?' The program director asked me questions such as 'Why do you want to be in the Partners for the Future Program? The scientists asked me questions about my previous research experience, my scientific interests and my time commitments."
Mr. Ku said one of the Cold Spring Harbor scientists on the interview committee was especially unique. "He told me that an important part of the scientific process is communication, so he asked me to tell a story about anything, so he could gauge my ability to convey ideas effectively," Mr. Ku said.
It seems only natural that Mr. Ku has been chosen to participate in the prestigious research program. "I have been going to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's summer DNA camp every year since I was in fifth grade," he said. "I heard about the camp from SEARCH teacher Mrs. [Maryann] Daly. The classes were interesting and fun and in recent years I have also signed on to their NetLetter."
Ms. Flores is Impressive
Ms. Flores has been actively involved in Huntington High School's science research program and has impressed teacher Lori Kenny. The teenager has already won a string of awards in science competitions. She will need to take her research skills to a new level at the Cold Spring Harbor Lab.
"The scientist who chose me works in the cancer department and we are investigating pre-cancerous lesions and how cancer forms," Ms. Flores said about her mentor-scientist Mike Feigin. "This is a new viewpoint on cancer, as opposed to addressing late stage cancers and simply extending a patients life for a relatively short period. There is very little known on how the cancer develops and by analyzing how tissue architecture is lost and why the cells start growing irregularly, there may be insight on how to actively prevent certain types of cancer."
Mr. Ku's mentor is Hyun Jae Pi, who works in the Kepecs Laboratory under Professor Adam Kepecs. Their lab specializes in neurobiology. "I believe that I will be investigating the inter-neurons of the neocortical inhibitory system, or a related topic," Mr. Ku said.
Mr. Ku's Research has Begun
Although the Partners for the Future program officially kicks-off September 12, Mr. Ku has been given permission to start conducting research early. He's been at the Lab on nearly a daily basis this summer.
"I'm very excited about the program," Mr. Ku said. "It's a great learning opportunity and I feel very fortunate and grateful for the wonderful teachers of our school district. I wouldn't be where I am without their teaching, encouragement and support. I would like to especially thank Mrs. [Deborah] Beck and Mrs. [Marguerite] Montefusco, who wrote my recommendation letters and prepared me for the program with their great teaching. I think that the Huntington School District is a great place to be and a very nurturing learning environment."
A welcoming session for participants, their families and high school contact teacher and their Cold Spring Harbor mentor is planned for early September at the Lab. Laboratory hours for program participants are worked out between them and their respective mentor.
"The Partners for the Future program is intense and requires a certain dedication," wrote David Jackson, program director and Kathy LaForgia, program administrator, in a letter to participants. "The feedback from our Partners for the Future alumna since 1990 has all been positive and this program really enhanced the lives of our previous partners. It is an exciting and rewarding experience and we are happy to have you as a participant."
Thirst for Research is Required
The Lab seeks seniors who have a real thirst for research and who are willing to invest a substantial amount of time pursuing it each week. The Lab avoids those looking to pad their academic resumes for college application purposes.
Science department chairs from across Long Island are allowed up to three nominations for inclusion in the program. The process results in a handful of students being selected to annually participate. The two Huntington seniors will be expected to contribute to the overall success of their team's research. They will live the life of a professional scientist.
"I think that the scientists at the Cold Spring Harbor Lab are explorers of the scientific frontier," Mr. Ku said. "What they are doing is endlessly fascinating and will have a great impact on our future."
Cold Spring Harbor Lab is actually a series of labs, each devoted to a particular area of study. During the internship Mr. Ku and Ms. Flores will make presentations and work with many of the leading scientists in the world who are conducting research in the lab's facilities. The program concludes each spring with the high school participants making oral presentations about their research projects to an audience of scientific mentors, Lab administrators, parents and teachers.
That two of the seven students selected by the Lab to participate in this year's program are from Huntington is a proverbial feather in the school district's science department's cap. The Cold Spring Harbor program offers four research opportunities: cancer, neurobiology, bioinformatics and plant biology.
Mr. Ku and Ms. Flores are the sixth and seventh Huntington seniors to participate in the program since it began in 1990. Jay Bikoff (1994-95), Ilana Kurshan (1995-96) and Jonathan Widawsky (2002-03), Hannah Payne (2006-07) and Madeleine Jensen (2007-08) each participated. All of the graduates went to top tier colleges. Mr. Bikoff went to Brown, Ms. Kurshan to Harvard, Mr. Widawsky to the University of Rochester, Ms. Payne to Dartmouth and Ms. Jensen to Columbia.