Southern Research STEM Day introduces students to possibilities

October 27, 2016

Students from across the metro area visited Southern Research campuses Wednesday for a behind-the-scenes look at the innovative work being done by the Birmingham-based nonprofit’s scientists and engineers.

Southern Research STEM 2016
Benjamin Owusu, a graduate research assistant at Southern Research, works with students on STEM Day.

The 2016 High School STEM Day drew 55 teens from schools in Birmingham and Mountain Brook, all who were selected based on their interest and achievements in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Southern Research staff from the Drug Discovery, Drug Development, Energy & Environment and Engineering divisions participated in the event, leading various experiments and operations tours.

Students walked through the steps involved in anti-cancer drug discovery and testing, specifically synthesizing and evaluating aspirin as a treatment and determining the viability of cancer cells. They also learned how to grow and study bacteria in the lab.

In addition, they performed destructive and non-destructive tests on metal materials and observed demonstrations of power plant operations, control loop integration and flue gas treatment.

The purpose of Southern Research’s participation in the STEM Day event is two-fold, said Watson Donald, director of external affairs.

“This helps Southern Research in giving back to the community,” he said. “That’s something that’s very important to us: Engaging the community and young, budding scientists and engineers.”

It also helps to create a pipeline of future job candidates, Donald said.

“We love hiring from Birmingham and the surrounding communities. If we can get boys and girls interested in these careers, then we can help create a local talent pool and keep these students working here after they have completed their education,” he said.


Southern Research STEM 2016
Infectious disease expert Tim Sellati speaks to students attending Southern Research’s STEM Day.

Kirk Mitchell, director of the Corporate Work Study Program at Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, said the STEM Day event reinforces what’s happening in the classroom and also gives students a clearer vision for the future.

“Experiences like this really help students understand what they’re learning in class as it relates to a career,” he said.

One of Mitchell’s students, Quandre James, said he learned how to tell the difference between living and dead cancer cells.

The 17-year-old senior works as a front office assistant in the UAB Department of Medicine as part of his work study program. Someday, he wants to be a music engineer.

“I love technology, and this gives me more insight on the technical aspect of my future career,” he said.

Amauri Pettaway, a Parker High School junior, is planning a career as an oncology pharmacist. Pettaway, 16, said she likes the problem-solving aspect of pharmacology, and her interest in oncology is driven by the fact that so much help is needed to fight cancer.

The STEM Day activities at Southern Research gave her more confidence in her career choice.

“The hands-on experiments were really helpful,” she said. “I feel this is for sure what I want to do.”

Southern Research STEM 2016
Students participating in STEM Day at Southern Research took part in laboratory experiments.
Southern Research STEM 2016
Students participating in STEM Day at Southern Research look into microscopes during an experiment.
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