Young Scientist Program wraps up first year with relevant topic

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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For students taking part in this year’s inaugural Young Scientist Program at The Hormel Institute, there is very little doubt that it’s considered a success.

The real world opportunity to work alongside Institute scientists, helping do meaningful science is an open world opportunity for learned experience. However, Wednesday’s final meeting of the program also had a relevant application to a topic on the forefront of many minds.


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“Today’s experiment was on vaping and the effect on the body and I think especially at the middle school age you hear more and more middle schoolers — or high schoolers — starting to vape,” said Institute Community Outreach and Education Manager Kelly Vincelette. “If we can show the effect it has on the body and have that real life example, I think it’s impactful.”

The lab was conducted by Mayo Clinic’s InSciEd Out, a collaborative partnership to build science education from pre-K to 12th grade. Wednesday’s lab used zebrafish to identify the effects of vaping and open the door to the potential harmful effects of vaping.

“It kind of shows you the larger scope of just how bad vaping is,” said Ellis Middle School eighth-grader Elaine Chumba. “Maybe be more aware of what you’re putting in your body.”

While Wednesday’s lab had life relevance, it is just part of the larger importance the program has played in its first year.

Over 20 students took part in the program this year and many were impacted from the start, including Chumba, who has hopes of perhaps finding a career in either chemistry or biology.

“A lot of experience of working with the tools they got,” she said. “You learned a lot about cancer the first few weeks. It’s kind of exactly what I expected.”

Vincelette said that reactions such as Chumba’s simply reinforces the program and the work being carried out within The Hormel Institute.

“There are no words that we can say,” Vincelette said. “We have set out to inspire that next generation of scientists and knowing from day one that that has already been started … it gives me goosebumps because it just means we are really doing what we are setting out to do. We can do so much more and we will.”

Vincelette said there are hopes of possibly expanding the program next year as well as rotating the students so they can experience more of what the Institute offers.

“This year we put students in specific labs and they were in those labs throughout,” she said. “In the future, I believe we’re going to rotate students so they have a different experience, they meet different scientists, they see the work of different labs. I think that will have a little more impact and show the different research.”

While the labs have come to a close in this first year, there is one more event upcoming, a celebration for students and their families on May 24 that will feature the students receiving certificates of completion.

They will also be able to showcase their portfolios and give people a chance to see what they’ve learned.

It’s something Institute staff hope the students will take with them after it’s all said and done.

“Even though they do not have a PhD behind their name, they are scientists and they can do this important work,” Vincelette said. “Whatever they set out to do in life, if that be science or something else, they can do it and they have the tools to do it.”