An inside view of academia

Conference: Students in gifted-and-talented programs in Howard County high schools gather to discuss their internship experiences.

May 08, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dressed in their hospital scrubs, students on an academic panel talked about viewing their first cadavers. They described how their fascination with seeing human organs helped them overcome "the gross-out factor."

It was an unusual term to hear at an academic conference, but this panel was composed of high school students who were participants in Howard County's Intern Mentor program. They shadowed doctors at area hospitals throughout the school year. Other students in the gifted-and-talented (GT) course had internships in scuba diving, fashion or autism, and some studied with professional photographers and poets.

On Friday, they gathered to discuss their experiences at the 10th Student Learning Conference. About 300 students representing the 10 Howard County high schools attended the talk at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in North Laurel.

Haritha Baskar, 17, of Centennial High School said she enjoyed telling others about her medical internship. Because of television shows such as ER, she said, "so many people have all these illusions of what it's really like."

Haritha and her fellow medical interns observed surgeries, wrapped each other in casts and comforted patients - experiences normally reserved for medical students.

Throughout the conference, teens said their internships gave them an inside view of their field of interest, a view from which high school students are usually excluded.

Sindy Parrott, the GT resource teacher at Mount Hebron High School, said, "One of the things we're trying to teach them is what an academic conference is like." Students had to apply to be presenters at the conference and were coached on targeting an audience, creating catchy titles and isolating a few main points for their half-hour seminars.

The small curtained-off area for Mohammad Saad Siddiqui's presentation was packed with students and teachers. Saad, a 19-year-old senior at Wilde Lake High School, studied international relations, auditing courses at the Johns Hopkins University. A Muslim born in Pakistan, Saad presented a seminar on Islam.

"I wanted to find a way to inform people and tell them that many of [their beliefs] are false," Saad said. He spent his half-hour debunking stereotypes and fielding questions.

Tom Payne, instructional facilitator for GT education programs, came up with the idea for the conference 10 years ago. "We had, prior to that time, a little mentor reception," he said.

A budget crunch made money too tight for the party, so Payne advertised a professional-style academic conference. Initially, colleges traded funding for advertising space in the program and an information table at the conference. Now sponsorship comes from corporations. The attendance fee is $5 a student.

"It's really evolved quite a bit over the years," Payne said. "I just think it's remarkable that the students can stand up and deliver what they've learned in that research environment."

Teen-agers have done more than be presenters at the conference, however. For the past four years, a student committee has designed and run several aspects of the event.

Ashley Pencak of Wilde Lake High School is one of three teen-agers on the Student Executive Committee. "It's been fun to see it go from what it was a year ago to what it is now," the 18-year- old said. "It's cool to see all of the ideas come to life."

One of Ashley's ideas was to do something to mark the 10th anniversary of the conference. She coordinated a panel of conference alumni, high school graduates who were once presenters. They spoke at the opening session about "how their GT coursework had an impact on their college experience and also on their career choices," Parrott said.

The morning culminated in an hourlong performing arts display. Although some of the students in this portion participated in the Intern Mentor program, others were invited for their talent in areas such as music and dance. "We just want to show the tremendous range of high-level talent that some of these kids have," Parrott said.

"I was actually doing the job of an adult," Ashley said. "I just love seeing everything coming together."

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