Campus News

‘Whole new world’: 44 students study science on campus as Young Dawgs

Young Dawgs 2013 Kelly Dyer and Andrew Gallagher-h.action
Young Dawgs intern Andrew Gallagher compares DNA sequences with UGA assistant professor Kelly Dyer

After a few weeks of working with UGA doctoral student Aimee Kowalski, Monisha Narayanan now can pipette like a pro. Besides mastering the art of getting drops of liquid into tiny plastic containers, the rising high school senior from Johns Creek has watched zebrafish grow from microscopic to swimming.

Narayanan is one of 44 high school students on campus this summer conducting research through the Young Dawgs program. Each semester, students come to campus to intern with UGA faculty in fields ranging from early childhood education to genetics. The summer, though, is dedicated to science.

“All of these students are being exposed to the application of science,” said Jim Geiser, Young Dawgs director. “Often high schools teach science, but they don’t produce scientists. We’re helping turn students interested in science into real scientists. The program is pretty life changing for a lot of these kids.”

High school students are spending six weeks studying areas such as chemistry, pharmacy, genetics, astronomy, physics and cellular biology. They’re working with professors conducting research on various topics including cancer, muscular dystrophy, erosion, ecosystems and moths.

Narayanan is working with Kowalski in associate professor Scott Dougan’s cellular biology lab, which studies the molecular and cellular basis of pattern formation in vertebrate embryos and uses zebrafish as its lab model. She most enjoys “the fact that everything’s hands on, and I get to experience everything for myself,” she said.

The Young Dawgs program, run by UGA Human Resources, is doing more than capturing the imaginations of high school students and preparing them for future careers. It’s also partnering with local school districts and earning awards on the national level. The program recently received the 2013 Community Service and Outreach Award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Besides connecting students with faculty, the program also works with local businesses and organizations to link students in areas not available through the university alone.

Andrew Gallagher’s summer has been full of fruit flies and DNA. The rising junior, who lives on the line between south Forsyth and north Fulton counties, is interning with assistant professor Kelly Dyer in her genetics lab.

“Working in a UGA lab is very much different than what high school is like,” he said. “It’s a whole new world.”

Dyer, who has had Young Dawg interns for three years, enjoys showing students what lab life is really about.

“It gives them a taste of the different things we do and an idea of both the ups and downs of research,” she said.

Her lab studies how organisms adapt to their environment using fruit flies as the study model.

This summer, Gallagher is learning how to crush fruit flies to extract and amplify their DNA and then to compare DNA sequences from different fruit fly species.