For the past 25 summers, high school students from across Georgia have worked side by side with scientists at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences through the Young Scholars Program.

Many of these students credit this first taste of life in a laboratory and on a university campus with launching their careers in science. Currently, 12 former Young Scholars are pursuing undergraduate degrees at CAES and more are pursuing other fields of study at UGA or working toward graduate degrees at other universities.

“For six weeks I was given the opportunity to work with actual professors, who are elites in their fields of study. I presented all the research that I did with my professor and competed to win first place at the competition. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this amazing program?” Ayodele Dare, a current UGA biological science major, said.

The Young Scholars Program is one of the most successful STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) mentoring programs in the nation, said Scott Angle, dean and director of CAES.

“We hope that these kids decide they want to go to college, study science and come to the University of Georgia, especially to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences,” Angle said. “They think science, they live science, for six weeks during their summer internship, and they conduct real research. They get scientific exposure, and they almost get to see what it’s like to be a graduate student.”

In addition to learning more about careers in science, young scholar students learn what it’s like to be a member of the workforce. Working in the Young Scholars Program is often the first job experience for many of these students. They learn how to keep a schedule, maintain a time sheet, interact with a diverse community of co-workers, keep records of their work and share the results of that work with their peers. And, they receive a modest paycheck.

Former young scholar and UGA graduate Narke Norton now helps coordinate the program. He plans to go to law school next fall and credits his success in college, in part, to his YSP experience.

“Some of the benefits of the Young Scholars Program to the University of Georgia student transition [process] are that it provides experience, opportunities and inclusion,” Norton said. “Students have an easier adjustment to UGA and campus life because of what YSP offers. Our office is a place of comfort for many former young scholars. They see it as a safe haven.” (The program is housed in the UGA CAES Office of Diversity Relations on the Athens campus.)

As a new UGA student, Dare said the program helped him adjust to life on a college campus.

“When I came to the University of Georgia, I was so unsure [of whether] I would make any friends or connections my first year in college,” he said. “But through YSP, I met numerous faculty and staff in the College of Ag. Now they push me to go beyond what I can [already] do and place me in leadership roles they know I can do well in. Slowly but surely, I am becoming a leader who can take charge and make a mark on this world that can never be erased.”

Young Scholars is designed to entice students to study science at CAES and expand their view of agriculture. When high school students hear the word “agriculture,” they often think of milking cows and driving a tractor. The program helps them see that agriculture also means plant breeding and working in advanced genetics and biotechnology.

“Our goal is to try to expose young people to what the opportunities are, so they will want to study agriculture at the University of Georgia,” Angle said. “Everyone who graduates [from our college] ends up with a job. We have the second highest starting salary of any of the colleges at the university.”

The Young Scholars Program is an expansion of the Georgia Station Mentor Program that began on the UGA Griffin Campus in 1989. In the 1990s, the program expanded to include the Athens campus after former CAES Dean Gale Buchanan signed an agreement with Morgan County High School to develop an internship program. In 1999, the program was renamed the Young Scholars Program. The program now places selected students with mentor scientists on UGA’s campuses in Griffin, Tifton and Athens.

Students must be at least rising high school sophomores and 16 years of age or older to participate in the program. For more information or to apply, go to the Young Scholars Program’s website or contact Victoria David, Young Scholars Program coordinator, at (706) 542-8826. The deadline to apply for the 2015 program is Jan. 31, 2015.