Waksman Student Scholars Program is a Pathway for Students to Reach Beyond the Classroom

Junior AP Biology student Ella Karolewski selecting a bacterial clone.

Hailey Desai

Junior AP Biology student Ella Karolewski selecting a bacterial clone.

Hailey Desai, Editor-in-chief

The Waksman Student Scholars Program, run by Rutgers University, provides opportunities for high school students to participate in research within their school. Founded in 1993, the program aims to encourage students to participate in genuine research and gain an understanding of how science operates. Since 2012, the project has focused on analyzing DNA sequences from the Landoltia Punctata, or otherwise known as the duckweed plant. For the past 15 years, the program has been facilitated by Minh Dang, an AP and Honors Biology teacher.

Participants choose bacteria from a cDNA library, a collection of mRNA that has been manipulated into DNA, which contains an undetermined DNA sequence. Students perform Restriction Digest and PCR experiments to determine if their insert is of length to be sequenced, which is outsourced to a lab. If a student is able to successfully sequence and analyze their DNA they are able to publish their research in Genbank, an international database for DNA sequences. 

Dang integrates the program both in his AP Biology course as well as an after school program, which is run by seniors Samantha Flaim and Manir Hede. Dang feels as though labs within the AP Biology course are often too “cookbook” like and the Waksman program allows students to perform “authentic science” with “real life scenarios”. 

This year, the program has expanded within Hillsborough with biology teacherDonna Griggs, the 2022-23 teacher of the year, bringing the program to her Honors Molecular Biology class. Inspiring decades of students, the program has been active in Hillsborough High School since the late 1990s. Oftentimes, this program can be the spark of a student’s interest in a STEM or research based career. Above all, the Wakmans research is an exciting, challenging academic project for all participants.