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RMI connects local students with research

By Brooke Bullock     4/21/11 7:00pm

Starting next fall, a group of high school students will work in Rice labs alongside current Rice undergraduate students. The Rice Mentorship Initiative will reach out to students from under-served communities to provide opportunities to research with an undergraduate mentor on campus.

RMI was started this year by Rahul Rekhi, who was awarded an Envision Grant for this project. He just announced a partnership with Milby High School to begin the first round of mentoring in the fall semester.

"RMI is trying to encourage students from under-served communities to pursue careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields," RMI president and founder Rahul Rekhi said.

Rekhi, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said he contacted Milby first because of their history with Rice and the Institute for Biosciences and Bioengineering. The Milby magnet coordinator, Patrick LaPadula, is working with Rekhi to gauge student interest and help elect students from Milby for the mentorship positions.

Rekhi said that RMI will work with the Office of Admissions to provide college counseling to the students involved as well. Rekhi said that the program currently aims to get five to 10 high school students involved in labs at Rice next semester.

"If there is more demand than spots, which there currently is, [LaPadula] will choose students," Rekhi said.

Duncan College sophomore Tiffany Chen said that getting high school students involved in research is a great idea and she was excited when Rekhi contacted her. Chen serves on the executive committee of RMI and is looking to be a mentor in the fall. Chen, a Century Scholar, works in Charles Stewart's lab on pinpointing genetic targets of a gene in a specific bacterial phase.

"When I was in high school, I did research, and that really helped me decide my major now," Chen, a Biochemistry and Cell Biology major, said.

Rekhi said he has already received student profiles from Milby and is now working on matching them with Rice undergraduate mentors. Currently, six different departments are represented among the mentors that have applied, including chemistry, physics and engineering, Rekhi said, but more mentors are needed. The deadline for mentor declarations of intent is April 24.

Rekhi said that after the pilot of the program next year, if it is successful, he hopes to expand the program to more students and more schools. LaPadula expressed an interest in maintaining a long term relationship with RMI as well, Rekhi said.

Chen said that although the ideal is to get these students working in labs and give them experience, RMI may have to face the reality of low funding in some of the labs.

"In college, different labs have different amounts of funding. An obstacle is to get professors and departments to take in more high school students when funding may just cover undergrads," Chen said. "If it can be implemented, it's a great idea."

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