With more than 15 different science classes offered at the upper school during the 2021–22 school year, it came as no surprise to Director of Internships Katie Saylor that so many students sought out lab-based science internships in summer 2022. But, Katie said, because many lab internships are restricted by age or filled by undergraduate and graduate students, Nueva students were left with fewer lab opportunities than the number of students who were interested in them.
So last spring, Katie met with biology teachers Paul Hauser and Jehnna Ronan to explore ways to offer those students hands-on job experiences for students interested in lab-based sciences here at Nueva.
During the course of a school year, Paul and Jehnna generate ideas for new lab experiments in the 10th grade biology curriculum and aim to assess the success of existing experiments in the course. It was this two-pronged idea—the potential for designing new lab experiments and refining existing experiments—that led this team to create a biology internship opportunity for students.
“These students already have the lab skills necessary to be independent in their work, which can often be hard to prove to those outside of Nueva,” Katie explained. “The pilot this summer was the perfect situation for students, as our faculty really understand our students and can challenge them appropriately. It checks the box of extending lab skills, being creative, and innovating new curriculum.”
For Paul, this scenario was a win-win.
“Jehnna and I said to each other, ‘Let’s design projects we’d want in the curriculum but we don’t have time to explore during the school year. We had our interns focus on new projects and create extensions to existing projects.”
Seniors Owen H., Jack R., and Kate V. helped to design one of those new projects.
“We obtained plant samples from the area about Nueva with the goal of extracting DNA samples, sending them to sequencing, and creating a phylogenetic tree to see how related the species are,” Kate said.
“It took us longer than I thought it would to get plant samples to work; at first we weren’t able to get any readable DNA,” Jack added. “So we needed to try a variety of methods to extract the DNA and find the most optimal method. This is a larger extension of an existing lab about SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and sequencing a gene. The idea is that students would collect plants and come to class with their samples, run through the procedure, and come together to build a phylogenetic tree to see how everything is connected.”
Senior Zander C. and sophomore Gavin Z. were paired up to find an optimal way to grow and experiment with slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) by “testing all of the different parameters of the experiments, determining what works and what doesn’t work, and identifying what challenges there might be for students,” Paul said.
“Our first step was to find a way to make slime survive,” Gavin said. “After a while slime will die, so we needed to move the slime to different agar plates. We also needed to run assays to see the behavior of slime over time.”
“Bacteria are like toddlers: they like to eat, but they are particular about what they eat. So we used a citrate metabolism test, where the bacteria changes color if it eats what we offer it.”
Celine H. '25
Zander added, “Documenting the growth was a challenge, but we created what we called the ‘Slimelapse’ to see the way the slime moved over time.”
The third group of interns—Celine H. ’24, Kyra H. ’24, and Anna A. ’25—were focused on a mystery bacteria lab, in which students test bacteria and examine it under a microscope to try to determine what it is. The group worked to revise the existing methods for identifying the bacteria to make them easier for students to follow, and they developed new tests to better distinguish between similar strains of bacteria.
“Bacteria are like toddlers,” Celine explained, “they like to eat, but they are particular about what they eat. So we used a citrate metabolism test, where the bacteria changes color if it eats what we offer it.”
At the conclusion of the six-week internship, students provided a list of what worked, what didn’t, and advice for how to scale the labs so 100 students could participate. It was clear that students not only continued to build their lab skills, but found their work meaningful work as well.
“Our interns were so productive this summer,” Jehnna said. “They solved many tricky issues we had run up against in our existing lab projects and helped to develop an entirely new project as well. The biology teachers wouldn't have been able to achieve all of these goals on our own. These students were instrumental in moving the Biology 101 curriculum forward."
“I applied for this internship because I haven’t had a chance yet to do biology lab work,” shared Anna, who will be in 10th grade biology this school year. “I’m really interested in biology, and I wanted to learn more about and contribute to my curriculum.”
“The beauty of this internship is that it contributes to the organization and the students get to meaningfully contribute,” Katie said. “This is the kind of opportunity the Nueva Internship Program can bring to our students.”