October 06, 2019
The ability to do engineering-related research in high school helped start Josh Harmon down the path toward becoming an engineer. Now a freshman at Mizzou Engineering, he’s working to pay it forward through a new student organization.
The nascent org is called the Union of Missouri Student Researchers and is currently working toward full recognition as a student organization at the campus level. Its goal? To connect researchers and students involved in research at the university level to high schools across Missouri to help high schoolers who want to get involved in STEM research do just that.
During his time at Camdenton High School in central Missouri, Harmon felt the impact of a supportive research apparatus first hand. He won the Missouri Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and regional International Science and Engineering Fair, eventually placing fourth at the ISEF national competition.
“I competed internationally, and it was a great opportunity for me,” Harmon said. “there needs to be more outreach, more programs to get more students involved in things like this. Due to my experience in high school, [MU Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Professor Randy Curry was able to hire me in his lab as a freshman.”
Not every high school had the same robust program for student research as Harmon’s. When he got to Mizzou, he wanted to do what he could to change that. UMSR is working toward recruiting faculty from engineering, environmental sciences and other key STEM areas to participate in outreach.
The idea is that faculty and/or their student researchers would serve as remote mentors to high school student groups, meeting regularly via video conferencing and occasionally in person to help shepherd their projects. Perhaps over time, doors would open for students to visit campus to do specific types of projects.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to have the resources to take undergraduate, graduate and even doctoral researchers from the university to these high schools to mentor these students,” Harmon explained. “Especially to help them with the initial processes of creating their project, how to start their data collection and then create the representation of their data.”
A program such as this has the potential to help students network, communicate, build research skills and more — fitting in well with Mizzou Engineering’s mission of educating engineering leaders.
“There’s no classroom setting that can do that. There’s no textbook that can walk you through how to find something brand new,” Harmon said. “That’s what high school research does.”