The motto of Hathaway Brown, Ohio’s oldest and most prestigious college preparatory girls’ school, is “We learn not for school but for life.” Nowhere is that motto more closely observed than in the school’s innovative Student Research Program.
At Hathaway Brown research is a hands-on experience. Patricia Hunt, director of the Student Research Program and a former scientific researcher, had noted a shortage of women in the physical sciences and engineering and started the program in 1998 to involve more young women in these disciplines. Since then Hunt has crafted an impressive program that immerses students in cutting-edge scientific and medical research at some of the Cleveland area’s top-flight institutions.
The key to the program’s success, says Hunt, is appropriate placement of students. When ninth-graders sign up for the research seminar, they spend much of their time exploring individual interests. Hunt begins with simple questions like “What are you interested in?” and “What do you daydream about?” Then she helps students identify a problem and cultivate a working relationship with researchers trying to solve a similar problem. Currently, Hathaway Brown students are teamed with professionals at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and the Cleveland Museums of Art and History.
Once Hunt is sure about a student’s placement, which usually takes several months, she sits down with her and the supervising researcher and constructs a plan. Hunt’s goal is to engage the student in four years of primary research as a member of the larger research team. The student might spend her first year learning laboratory techniques, then move on to larger tasks, such as a piece of original research that fits into her mentor’s project. Students usually work in the lab with their research teams one afternoon a week during the school year and for longer periods, often full-time, during the summer.
Such projects place Hathaway Brown students on the cusp of scientific discovery. Several students are now researching cures for debilitating and life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and multiple sclerosis; others are working with functional electronic stimulation, a marriage of medicine and engineering that holds promise for victims of paralysis; still others are tracking their experiments on the International Space Station and testing materials that resist erosion on spacecraft in lower orbits.
The payoff has been astounding: Hathaway Brown students have garnered more than 150 awards and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes in just four years. The school has had one finalist and four semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search from 2000 to 2002. It is the only school in the nation to have had students named to the National Gallery of Young Inventors Hall of Fame for two consecutive years. (The gallery inducts only six students per year.) Three Hathaway Brown girls hold patents pending, and more than 35 are published authors and coauthors of professional articles.
An extension of the Student Research Program is the Outreach Student Research Program, which teams with the Cleveland Public Schools in offering the same research opportunities to minority girls in the system. Five students have benefited from the outreach program, and one of them is attending Harvard University in the fall of 2002. The goal of the outreach program, according to Hunt, is to “create models of excellence in the Cleveland Public Schools for others to look up to and emulate.”
Hunt would be delighted to see the Hathaway Brown research model implemented everywhere: “Contact your local school system, construct a plan, call a scientist, and make the pitch.”
Sarah Boone has an M.A. in teaching and certification in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
The stories of several girls in the Student Research Program appear in Young Women of Achievement, by Frances A. Karnes and Kristen R. Stephens, Prometheus, 2002