Students Explore a World of Research at FAU High School

Thanks to a special research program, the only one of its kind in the nation, students at FAU High School engage in university-level research before they can drive a car – beginning at age 14 as dual-enrolled high school freshmen. The innovative high school’s extensive research program opens up endless possibilities for students and has generated significant research in just four years. The program also strengthens the region’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline by developing young researchers with advanced research skills and knowledge who are ready to join the local workforce.

Leading the FAU High Research Program is Dr. Tricia Meredith, ’11, Director of Research for FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School and FAU High School. Dr. Meredith’s passion for research was ignited when she completed a faculty-mentored undergraduate research thesis at UNC Wilmington, which she went on to publish. Dr. Meredith came to FAU as a doctoral student, studying sharks. At the time, she also worked as a teaching assistant for biology courses, including the NSF-funded Undergraduate Research and Mentoring program. She enjoyed helping biology students navigate the world of research. After earning her doctorate, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Miami, then returned to FAU as Assistant Director for the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry.

In 2015, Dr. Meredith took on her current role and set out to develop a robust undergraduate research program tailored to FAU High’s unique student body. Students are enrolled in both high school and college, starting college courses full time after their freshman year. The FAU High School Research Program, introduced by Joel Herbst, Ed.D., Superintendent of FAU PK-12 Schools and Educational Programs, consists of a series of courses that provide a support system to help students excel in undergraduate research, along with individualized faculty mentoring to guide students through the process of learning basic, commonly used research skills through to completing a publication-worthy research project. Training includes learning about research conducted at FAU and other research institutes, identifying a faculty research mentor, developing a research project proposal, applying for research funding, analyzing data, and presenting and publishing research results.

The FAU High School Research Program has expanded to include a state-of the-art imaging lab, research abroad in the Galapagos, lab skills workshops, a small research support team, and has yielded impressive outcomes from the students. Since 2015, students have co-authored 40 peer-reviewed publications, which have been cited 268 times by other researchers, demonstrating the level of professionalism of the students’ research and the value of their contributions. Students were awarded 115 grants, funding their research for a total of $106,900. Students delivered 255 research presentations at conferences and symposia, including outside the U.S. So far, 420 students have engaged in the program, of whom, nearly 200 engaged in intensive-level research with a university faculty mentor. Two students have patents as a result of their research.

The research program is also significant for South Florida. Students address relevant research subjects, such as studying neurogenerative diseases to assist an aging population. Working with FAU’s Karen Slattery Research School for Child Development, FAU High School students have introduced preschoolers to research, teaching them to use equipment such as a scanning electron microscope. Research taking place through the FAU High School Research Program is providing incredible opportunity for FAU High students and the region. The program has created a new model that effectively guides teenage undergraduates, allowing them to explore and engage with the world through research, while making an impact on their community and beyond.