Triangle area Kenan Fellows design Young Scientist Research Challenge for students

RALEIGH, N.C.⸺Five Kenan Fellows have launched the Biogen Young Scientist Research Challenge for middle and high school students in the Triangle.

The challenge will bring together teams of four to seven middle or high school students to research, design and communicate solutions to real-world biotechnology or medical problems. The top 4 teams (2 high and 2 middle) will be invited to present their projects to a panel of industry professionals and educational leaders on April 22, 2023.

First-place winners in each division will receive $2,000 and second-place winners will receive $1,000 in their divisions. 

The challenge is made possible by a generous grant from the Biogen Foundation. The five Kenan Fellows designing and implementing the challenge are:

  • Leslie Aguirre Mouchet, Holly Springs High School, Wake County Public School System
  • Shannon Hardy, Wake County Young Men’s Leadership Academy, Wake County Public School System
  • Dorothy Holley, West Johnston High School, Johnston County Schools
  • Cherilyn Murray, North Wake College & Career Academy, Wake County Public School System
  • Jill Ray, Vernon Malone College & Career Academy, Wake County Public School System

Classroom-to-Industry Connections

This summer, the five fellows interned at Biogen and Q2Solutions (owned by IQVIA) where they shadowed employees and conducted one-on-one interviews with employees to identify connections between biomedical careers and the content and fundamental skills they teach in the classroom. Their industry-based internships helped to inform the scope and the goal of the challenge.

Hardy, who completed her internship at Q2Solutions, said she gained insight into what employers look for in successful job candidates. Company managers emphasized, again and again, Hardy said, that they preferred to hire someone with diverse work experiences over someone with a perfect GPA and no work experience. 

“What they need is a problem-solving mindset,” said Hardy, an 8th-grade math teacher. “It made me realize how important it is for educators to teach students how to set goals apart from grades, keep portfolios, and encourage students to take risks and reflect on their mistakes.”

Murray, who also interned at Q2 Solutions, echoed Hardy’s sentiments. “The connection between the global workforce and education was mind-blowing,” said Murray, who teaches English Language Arts. “To be able to recognize and discuss the importance of soft skills, collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking was an affirmation of the importance of a well-rounded education.”

Shaping a new generation of problem solvers

The fellows designed the challenge rules, developed a rubric and built a website to launch the research challenge on Oct. 24. They are now recruiting middle and high school teachers in Durham, Johnston and Wake counties to form student teams that will participate in the challenge.

Mouchet, who completed her internship at Biogen, said the goal of the challenge is to help students build critical thinking and problem-solving skills and find innovative solutions to current biotech and medical misconceptions. 

“As part of the challenge, students will create a video to communicate their ideas,” Mouchet said. “The idea is to provide them with a platform to be able to share their research and their findings with confidence as they would in any higher education or industry setting.”