Turning a Student Into a Scientist

By: Nicole Onken, CALS Communications Service

Rosemary Galdamez, an incoming senior at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, is one of 19 George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship Program interns this year. The high school student completed a research project with Carver Program mentor Thomas Isenhart, a professor in the department of natural resource ecology and management.

“It was great having Rosemary as part of our research group this summer,” said Isenhart. “She is a very engaged, hard-working young adult with a bright future. Mentoring interns such as Rosemary, along with the undergraduate and graduate students, is an important and rewarding part of the research enterprise.”

How did you get involved with the George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship Program?
I heard about the Carver Program through Science Bound. Science Bound is an Iowa State program for minority students. You begin in eighth grade and the purpose of the program is to encourage students to go to college and get a degree in STEM.  Adam Wade, a student programs coordinator in Science Bound, encouraged me to apply to the Carver Program. I was hesitant at first because six weeks away from home was a little scary. Mr. Wade convinced me to apply the week the application was due, so I did and was accepted.

Rosemary Galdamez, an incoming high school senior, stands in the lab where she completed research as a George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship Program intern. Photo by Nicole Onken.

Did you choose the project you’re working on during the Carver Program?
Yes. When I applied, I wrote down different aspects of science I was interested in. I went online and looked at different Iowa State majors to get an idea of what to apply for. I was offered two different projects, and I was able to choose which one I liked best.

How did you get involved in STEM?
I’ve always been interested in science, but my high school teachers got me interested in pursing STEM subjects as possible career areas. I’ve had really good teachers, particularly my advanced placement environmental science teacher, Ms. Power, and my advanced placement biology teacher, Ms. Schwendau.

What is your research project for the Carver Program?
My research is on nitrates. I had the opportunity to write and test three separate hypotheses about nitrate concentrations within the Bear Creek Watershed. We have a database with records going back to 1999, so I could use the data for long-term predictions. I particularly focused on how nitrate concentration changed over the course of the stream, from the top to the bottom. I took water samples from seven different sites and found concentrations were the highest at the top of the stream, where the tiles directed the agriculture drainage water into the stream. We’re trying to promote edge-of-field practices, such as buffers and bioreactors, because both can help reduce nitrates in the water. That’s a big goal of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Who is your role model in STEM?
My Carver Program mentor, Thomas Isenhart, has helped me a lot. He makes sure I network with people in the department, so if I’m interested in going to Iowa State I’ll know what classes to take and different things like that. He’s introduced me to a lot of different people and he’s been really helpful.

How do you think the Carver Program will benefit you in the future?
I think the Carver Program will help me with my long-term goals. As of now, I’m planning on attending Iowa State. I’ve enjoyed my research, so I might continue in the department of natural resource ecology and management. It’s providing me with valuable networking opportunities and great lab experience that I can use in a STEM career.

What is your favorite part of the Carver Program?
I have several favorite experiences during the program. I really like spending time with the other high school Carver Program interns. I knew some of them before, but the experience of being in the program really made us closer. I also enjoyed attending the Urban-Ag Academy conference this July. We got to meet different representatives and listened to speakers with diverse backgrounds from different parts of agriculture. Another thing I enjoyed was the opportunity to take my own field samples and analyze that data I was contributing to the project.

Would you recommend other students participate in the Carver Program?
Yes! It’s been a great experience. You learn a lot and it’s a good program to put on your resume. I’ve met great people, and I’ve gained valuable lab and field experience.

Galdamez is participating in the George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship Program. The program gives undergraduate and high school students an opportunity to perform hands-on research with faculty members. The purpose of the program is to increase diversity within STEM and recruit the best and brightest students to Iowa State. In addition to research, interns participate in social and cultural activities and seminars.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner. The strategy was developed in partnership with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.