Henry students explore STEM on a college level

By Diane Smith
Times Correspondent

When Brandon Reavis, recent Union Grove High School graduate, applied for the University of Georgia’s Young Scholars Program (YSP) in January of 2014, he didn’t know much about turf (as in golf, soccer fields, sod, etc.). Reavis indicated on his YSP application that he was interested in civil engineering as a career path. He also considered working with waste water and public transportation issues.

Standing - Xavier Jones of Luella High. L. to r.: seated Brandon Reavis, Union Grove High; Kayla Rice, Union Grove High; Betty Jackson, Eagles Landing High; Akiel Etienne, Union Grove High. Photo by Diane Smith

His first year with YSP, the McDonough resident was placed with mentors in turf science. Suddenly a whole world of new possibilities opened to him. As a returning Young Scholar in 2015, Brandon requested to be placed back in turf science. About his experience with YSP Reavis says, “It has exposed me to the ag (agriculture) industry in Georgia and it has also greatly influenced my college and major. This fall I will be a freshman at UGA and I will be majoring in Turfgrass Management.”

The Young Scholars Program in its 25th year and under the auspices of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is a paid/internship program for engaging area high school students. Founded by Dr. Jerry and Marilyn Johnson and Dr. John Roberts at the Griffin campus it was originally intended to help draw minority students to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and careers.

YSP has grown to encompass three UGA campuses – Athens, Griffin and Tifton. The 2015 program hosted a total of 82 students. In addition to the research projects, students also participate in research and college preparatory workshops, team-building exercises, and educational field trips. The highlight of the program for second year students is international travel. This year 15 students from the three campuses (five from Griffin) went on a 10-day educational foray to Costa Rica.

Brandon Reavis and five of the other students, representing three other local high schools, recently completed the 2015 Young Scholars Program.

Alexia Maxis, also a second-year scholar, is a rising senior at Woodland High. During her first year as a Young Scholar, Alexia worked in the horticulture department, studying plants that draw pollinators. Her research took her in a different direction this year working with Dr. Dan Suiter in entomology, determining what kind of pheromones and other chemicals cockroaches leave behind to attract others.

Four Henry County students took advantage of the opportunities for learning, networking and building college resumes as first-year scholars at UGA Griffin. Betty Jackson, a rising junior at Eagles Landing High School, worked in Crop and Soil Sciences in the area of plant pathology.

Kayla Rice, a rising senior at Union Grove High School, joined Brandon Reavis in working with the UGA turf team under Dr. Paul Raymer. Rice’s research was lab based, and involved using DNA to help determine disease resistance in turf.

Luella High School was represented by Xavier Jones, a rising junior. Jones learned about the causes and effects of heat waves while studying with renowned UGA weather scientist, Dr. Ian Flitcroft. According to Xavier, “The Young Scholars Program meant a lot to me, giving me an opportunity to be a part of something greater outside a typical classroom … giving me a feel of what is out in the agricultural world.”

Another Union Grove student, rising senior Akiel Etienne, rounded out the Henry County group of scholars. Etienne also worked in the Crop and Soil Sciences unit. His research encompassed water quality in watersheds in Gwinnett County.

According to Be-Atrice Cunningham, Project Manager and YSP Coordinator at UGA Griffin, the program has been and continues to be instrumental in creating a pipeline of college-ready students that will enhance diversity in our colleges and in our country’s agriculture workforce.

“This year’s class is a brilliant group of young people representing 14 high schools across six counties in the southern crescent arc of Atlanta,” said Cunningham.

For more information, call Be-Atrice Cunningham at 770-228-7392 or email beatrice@uga.edu.

The 2016 YSP application process will open October 15, 2015 and run through January 31, 2016 at www.ysp.caes.uga.edu.