The Value of An Authentic Research Experience

This letter to the editor was written by Dr. Kate Degner, the administrator for the Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa.  The letter first appeared in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Experimental Secondary Science.

The Value of High School Research Internships in University Laboratories: The Secondary Student Training Program

Katherine Degner, PhD 
SSTP Administrator, Belin-Blank Center
The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa


The Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) is a long-standing summer research program for high school students administrated by the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, at the University of Iowa.  For decades SSTP has been inviting highly capable high school students to work in research laboratories under the mentorship of a University of Iowa faculty member.   Students have worked in labs from the departments of Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Computer Science, Emergency Medicine, Engineering, Pharmacy, Physics, Psychology, and Public Health.  Students involved in the program gain experience using the eight Scientific and Engineering Practices outlined in the Framework for Science Education1.  Additionally, Olszewski-Kubilius (2010)2 asserts that students with talent in STEM areas can better prepare for work in STEM careers by having experiences with challenging academic work, by having authentic research experiences, and by having meaningful contact with STEM professionals; making the SSTP program and others like it an important part of the STEM pipeline for our most talented high school students.  Through our work with the program, we have learned many lessons along the way; both with the struggles our students encounter and ways to better serve the needs of the students as emerging researchers.  I’d like to outline three of the most meaningful lessons we’ve learned as part of SSTP, in hopes that our discoveries can be applied to many other research opportunities in STEM fields afforded to students.

(Read the complete letter by visit the December edition of JESS).


1. National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2. Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2010). Special schools and other options for gifted STEM students.  Roeper Review. 32. 61-70.

3. Baseya, J.M. & C.D. Francis. (2011). Design of inquiry-oriented science labs: impacts on students’ attitudes. Research in Science & Technological Education. 29(3). 241-255.


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