Texas Tech University

Clark Scholars Program Provides Research Experience for High School Students

Cara Vandergriff

August 12, 2015

The program is an intensive, seven-week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors.

Clark Scholars

For many gifted high school students, it can be difficult to pursue advanced scholastic ideas and conduct high-level research within the limitations of high school curricula.

Luckily for these students, the Honors College at Texas Tech University offers a program designed to allow exceptional juniors and seniors to break free from these restrictions and further explore their academic passions in a university-level research environment. Students have the unique chance to learn and grow with faculty members and students who are equally passionate about research.

The Clark Scholars Program gives highly qualified high school students the opportunity to gain hands-on, practical research experience with the university's faculty. The program, which lasts seven weeks, accepts juniors and seniors on a highly competitive basis and awards those selected with a $750 tax-free stipend as well as room and board. Students spend the duration of the program participating in intensive research environments in disciplines of their choice collaboratively with a faculty mentor. They also attend weekly seminars, discussions and field trips.

The program's commitment to individual learning, research and scholastic growth has made it a highly competitive and beneficial program that propels high school students toward success. Many Clark Scholars have gone on to attend Ivy League universities, win innovation awards, have their work published in scholarly journals and more.

San Francisco
Michael San Francisco

"The credit for this program goes to Bob Lawless, president emeritus, and John Burns, past provost and dean who initially engaged with the Clark Foundation," said Michael San Francisco, dean of the Honors College. "Being involved with these outstanding young people since the program's inception in 1992 has enriched my life immeasurably. Clark Scholars are academically peerless. However, a defining characteristic of most of them is their global perspective, their ability to work well with others and a sense of service."

The program was created by an endowment from the Anson L. Clark Foundation with the purpose of attracting gifted high school students from throughout the nation and allowing them the opportunity to work together with Texas Tech faculty in a research-intensive setting. Students of the program further develop their critical thinking abilities and career interests, and many continue to use their research experience to help frame their future career paths.

In the last 21 years, the Clark Scholars Program has brought more than 250 students from around the country to Texas Tech to involve themselves in what has become both a unique research opportunity and one of the most premiere educational experiences for pre-college students.

Daniella Cohen, a student in this year's program, said the research processes she's learned taught her curiosity and determination can lead to astonishing results.

"The Clark Scholars Program has challenged me intellectually beyond anything I have ever experienced before," Cohen said. "I've learned that creative solutions are born at the intersection of multiple fields of study. I'm grateful my mentors and this program have provided me with the tools to put my ideas to the test."

The mentors who work with the Clark Scholars each year are Texas Tech and Health Sciences Center professors who are chosen based on that year's selected student scholars and their individual areas of interest. Each student is assigned to a faculty member whose expertise complements their area of interest, and the faculty member serves as a mentor to the student's research throughout the seven-week program.

Changzhi Li, a Clark Scholars mentor and professor of electrical and computer engineering, said he is consistently impressed with the program's students each year.

"I've always been amazed by the high level of intelligence and solid scientific background of the Clark Scholars," Li said. "Unless one can closely work with a Clark Scholar for a few weeks, it would be difficult to imagine how bright and energetic these young people are. I've greatly enjoyed every moment spent with the scholars."

Admission to the program is increasingly competitive. Applicants are selected on the basis of academic accomplishments, career objectives and teacher recommendations. In recent years, the program has received between 350 and 400 applications per year from students across the country and world. Only 12 scholars are selected each year. Application information for the Summer 2016 program will be available in December at www.clarkscholars.ttu.edu.

Students selected to participate in the program will receive a unique educational experience unlike what they're familiar with in their high schools. 2015 Clark Scholar Cathy Wang said this is the main reason she applied for the program.

"I wanted to gain research experience and explore biochemistry at a deeper and more investigative level than high school curriculum would allow," Wang said. "I've definitely learned a lot and have gotten to know so many inspirational people, both peers and mentors."

Clark Scholars

2015 Clark Scholar Robert Henning chose to apply for a similar reason and said the program has been helpful in enriching both academic experience and college lifestyle experience.

"I chose to apply to the Clark Scholars Program because it offered university-level research experience and training for a wide variety of fields. The program is fantastic for slowly getting introduced to the college lifestyle while challenging oneself with academic research," Henning said.

Though the program revolves around research and studying, Henning said being able to explore personal academic interests while being surrounded by students much like himself has made the program fun as well.

"I've had a fantastic time at the Clark Scholars Program. The chance to do work on my project while under the mentorship of awesome faculty has made this my best summer experience yet," Henning said.

Though the program's duration is just seven weeks, many faculty members have found the Clark Scholars continue to pursue their research projects and keep in touch with program friends and mentors long after the summer ends.

Clark Scholars

Wayne Lewis, a long-time Clark Scholar mentor and selection committee member and professor of mathematics and statistics, said many of his students have used their work in the program for later successful projects, and several have stayed in contact with him for years after completion of the program.

"Many students have kept in touch with me during their later career, letting me know how they are doing and inquiring about things here and the present Clark Scholars," Lewis said.

The combination of devoted research, personal academic interests, experienced faculty mentors and gifted students makes the Clark Scholars Program an invaluable experience in which any high school student wishing to advance their academic career should strive to participate.

"The Clark Scholars Program is one of the most rewarding things I have been involved with, both for the student as well as the mentor," Lewis said. "The students are very bright, enthusiastic, full of questions and ideas and willing to work. It is a very rewarding experience for all involved."

For more information on the Clark Scholars Program, visit www.clarkscholars.ttu.edu.