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Marianas Variety: 4 NMI students participate in national research symposium (August 22, 2017)

FOUR students from the CNMI participated in the 2017 Short-Term Experience for Underrepresented Persons or STEP-UP annual research symposium in Bethesda, Maryland on Aug. 7-9, 2017.

According to Annette Pladevega, STEP-UP research and evaluation coordinator, about 70 students from around the U.S., including the territories, attended the symposium at the National Institutes of Health.

Before their trip to Maryland, the four CNMI students worked on their research projects over the summer. They also attended the local STEP-UP symposium at Saipan Southern High School.

Pladevega said this year’s research program was sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The program, she added, pairs junior and senior high school students with mentors from various agencies that provide hands-on scientific research for six to eight weeks.

Kloe Borja, a returning participant and recent graduate of Kagman High School, was mentored by Michael Ogo, the aquaculture and extension agent and program head at Northern Marianas College.

Borja worked on a project titled “Observation of the productivity of Isochrysis galbana cultures with exposure to different light intensities.”

“As a returning STEP-UP intern,” Borja said, “I am further reminded of what a great opportunity is presented by the program. It provides intensive research experience and guidance on my career path, as well as mentorship that lasts beyond eight weeks. The STEP-UP program is something I would recommend to any eligible high school junior or senior with any level of interest in the STEM fields,” referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Pladevega said Borja was a graduating senior when she applied for the second time to the STEP-UP program. She will be attending Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Marianas High School graduate David Borja was mentored by Johnny Aldan who serves as an NMC nursing faculty member.

“The STEP-UP program was overall an excellent experience,” David Borja said. It was his first time to take part in the program so he had difficulty in adjusting as he had no prior knowledge about his research topic.

“But as the program progressed so did I. I learned as much about my topic as I could and with the help of my mentor began to familiarize myself with all the lab equipment that I had used. My research had its ups and its downs — the occasional failed experiment or incorrect results, but that’s science for you. In the end it mostly worked out.”

At the national symposium, he met a variety of people — doctors, professors and other high school interns from around the country. “The doctors and professors were extremely helpful. They gave me tips for my presentation and advice for college and future careers in STEM.”

KHS senior student Alyssa Cepeda was mentored by Dr. Haldre Rogers of the Ecology of Bird Loss Program.

Cepeda said the national symposium was a very memorable experience for her. “I was able to share my summer research project on Coenobita brevimanus. I was able to meet and connect with other students from around the world, and learn about various other cultures. I also met real-life scientists who shared what it is like to have a career in science and its importance.”

MHS senior high school student Amea Reyes was mentored by Michael Ogo.

“I am grateful to the Public School System and the STEP-UP program for providing me with this amazing opportunity. This trip has inspired me to be more curious and not let the fear of difficulty stop me. I also got the pleasure of meeting Dr. Griffin Rodgers, the director of the [National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases], who shared some wise words and advice with us interns about how possible success is, and how programs like STEP-UP provide us with the extra boost to jumpstart it. Overall, I hope to see more people from the CNMI get this same opportunity and have this great experience,” Reyes said.

Pladevega said PSS has been partnering with NMC and the STEP-UP Program since 2011, and since then, over 30 high school student have already participated in the program.

This year, STEP-UP and PSS partnered with NMC and the Ecology of Bird Loss Program to provide mentors for participating students.

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