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Eighty-one Teens Conducting Research at UConn Mentor Connection
(Released: 07/18/01)

By Janice Palmer, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- Gene cloning, pharmaceutical drug development and an archaeological dig are just some of the research projects teenagers will pursue during UConn Mentor Connection, a three-week summer program placing 81 high school juniors and seniors side-by-side with faculty and researchers at the University of Connecticut.

The UConn Mentor Connection runs thru July 27 and is sponsored by the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. It gives bright students from all walks of life real-world experience in developing creative projects and conducting investigations.

"It is our goal to fan the fire and the passion for learning among high school students who ordinarily would not have contact with accomplished professionals in the student's area of interest," says Jeanne Purcell, program director. She is also the consultant for gifted and talented programs for the Connecticut Department of Education.

"The UConn Mentor Connection is a powerful opportunity for these students," Purcell explains.

"It can have an incredible effect on their academic and professional life. Research tells us that eminent people have had mentors all along the way who changed their lives."

While students develop a collaborative and personal relationship with a university researcher, they also learn about career options and get a taste of college life by living in dormitories and eating in dining halls.

The program's mission is also aimed at building self-esteem and confidence in students who choose their area of study from 35 options. Some of the activities include:

  • learning how to use gene cloning and other cutting-edge research techniques to better understand the genetic puzzle of evolution;
  • reading classic tales and watching modern movie versions to trace their origins;
  • digging up history and mystery with the state archaeologist at various locations around Connecticut;
  • learning the basics of inventing by designing multipurpose vehicles for use on land, in the air and on the sea.

Purcell and her staff worked with school officials in Connecticut's targeted school districts to find highly-motivated students for the program. They made a special attempt to identify students whose talents may have been overlooked because of socioeconomic reasons.

Nearly 60 of the students received full or partial scholarships to attend the program. The funding is provided by a $130,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Education, $20,000 generated from an endowment created by UConn trustee William Berkley, $10,000 from Fox 61 Television and $9,000 from People's Bank.

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