State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Summer Program Opens Door to the Life of a Scientist

By Liz Alejandra Orozco, Destiny Torres, and Cassie Xu

For Destiny Torres, currently a biology major at Brown University and a Gates Millennium Scholar, participating in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Secondary School Field Research Program in 2010 offered her the perfect combination of research and mentorship opportunities, lab work, and getting a glimpse into the daily life of a scientist. She loved the program so much that she’s returned to it four years in a row as a mentor for other high school students. Torres recently sat down with us to discuss Destiny Torresher experience in the program.

Why did you decide to participate in the SSFRP program?

I have always been interested in science. However, it was when Ms. Susan Vincent, my high school earth science teacher at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in East Harlem, explained the (Lamont) program to me that I became interested. The program is well known at my school, but it was when my teacher explained the multi-faceted research and lab components to me, that I became really interested. In my neighborhood, there are mostly sports activities available for the summer, but not many opportunities to leave the city and do real research. I participated in the program because I knew it would allow me to explore different fields in science, as well as gain lab experience. I also knew that the program would allow me to meet different teachers, professors and scientists and begin to expose me to the different types of responsibilities I would face when I began college.

How was your overall experience, and have you found it helpful?

My experiences have been great. Over the four summers that I participated in the program, I’ve had memorable experiences with my peers while gaining a plethora of knowledge. I have learned multiple scientific procedures, ranging from collecting lab samples in the field to conducting Loss-On-Ignition, which is a procedure done to determine the amount of carbon stored within a sample of soil and sediment collected in the field. Although I do not conduct the same lab techniques in college, the program allowed me to gain a large sense of responsibility. In the (program), everyone (students and adults alike) is given daily, weekly and long-term tasks. Because everyone has responsibilities from the beginning, we all know that we have to pull our own weight and that we cannot procrastinate. Managing responsibilities has been helpful, because it has allowed me to balance my high school and college tasks accordingly, to always prioritize jobs and to be a diligent person.

What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the program offers high school students?

Personal experience. By allowing students like myself to work in a lab from a young age, we are able to see how lab equipment works and how real life science experiments are conducted. Rather than assume that what we see on CSI is true, (the program) allows students to actually be part of scientific discovery. Students are also allowed to further their interest in the science field and learn about the different jobs within the scientific community.

Have you or do you plan on pursuing further education in science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields of study?

As of now, I do plan on furthering my education with respect to STEM fields. I am currently a biology major at Brown University and am considering a fifth year program in biotechnology.

The Secondary School Field Research Program is a research-based instructional program focused on biodiversity and environmental research in the New York metropolitan area. The program has been running for 10 years, and it brings high school students, high school science teachers and undergrads to the campus for seven weeks in the summer. Piermont Marsh in Palisades, N.Y., serves as the classroom for students and teachers. During this hands-on learning experience, the group is exposed to rigorous research being done on wetlands and their physical environments by research scientists doing actual fieldwork. More than half of the participants are young women, more than 80 percent are from ethnic groups that are under-represented in scientific professions, and more than three-quarters are from schools that are predominantly Title I and Title III participants. Program graduates have an exceptional record of graduating, getting into college, and pursuing STEM majors. For information, contact Robert Newton, program director, at

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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