College Academy students get involved in research

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Huntsville City Schools College Academy students will get an introduction to computer-based animation at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) during the spring semester.

The spring program will be led by Vinny Argentina, assistant professor of UAH’s Department of Art, Art History & Design. It will also involve UAH honors undergraduates studying digital animation to help the College Academy students on the project. The goal for College Academy students is to create their own animated short film by the end of the project, which will span five to six weeks in February and March.

The result of a partnership between Huntsville City Schools and The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), Huntsville City Schools College Academy is a new magnet program at Jemison High School that welcomed its first cohort of ninth grade students in fall of 2016.

Students offered admission to this magnet program have the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credits at UAH while also earning their high school diploma. Students begin taking college courses in ninth grade from UAH professors while high school courses are taught by Jemison High School teachers selected to be part of the College Academy team.

During the 11th and 12th grade, students can take up to two courses per year on the UAH campus. Funded entirely by Huntsville City Schools, the College Academy will allow students and families to offset the substantial costs of college tuition and expenses associated with the first two years of an undergraduate degree.

College Academy students are also able to learn about and experience undergraduate research. Dave Cook, coordinator of student research at UAH, is leading the program that gives students an opportunity to interact with UAH faculty and academic student organizations that are participating in research and creative projects. 

“UAH is a research university, and the many undergraduate research opportunities we offer our students are a unique benefit of being a student here. So, we wanted the College Academy students to also be exposed to inquiry based learning as a part of this one-of-a-kind magnet program,” says Cook.

For the College Academy students’ first encounter with research, Cook enlisted the help of UAH’s Space Hardware Club. The first freshman cohort of the College Academy participated in a high-altitude BalloonSat project in fall 2016. The project was carried out over a five-week period in October and November. The project modules included an introduction to high-altitude ballooning, payload design and predictions, the actual launch from the Jemison football field, follow-up of flight details and payload, and creating a research poster about the project.

“UAH is providing an invaluable experience for our College Academy students by engaging them in undergraduate research to help develop their sense of wonder and curiosity, as well as providing interaction with traditional-age college students who can mentor and inspire our young scholars,” says Susan Eison, the Huntsville City Schools Dean of College Academy.

Students at College Academy had fun with the project and are starting to catch on as well.

“Research is an important skill, as it teaches you not how much knowledge you have but how much knowledge you can gain!” says student Hieu Nguyen.

Student Alyssa Poe says it’s important to learn about and engage in research in order to better understand the world.

“You are told theories and laws about how things work and why things are the way they are, but until you research and do them there are always still questions,” she says. “When you start doing research and experiments at a young age, it makes it easier to do it when you get older. Doing research at a young age helps you to learn and understand difficult ideas about how our world works.”

Student McKenzie Huffstetler says research offers a deeper educational experience.

“It is important to learn about and engage in research because research is where we learn the most,” Huffstetler says. “Research helps us learn from mistakes.“


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