The STARS of Parkway Central


Claudia Sanders, Online News Editor

The Students and Teachers as Research Scientists (STARS) Program is for academically advanced students to experience working in laboratories with professional scientists. They work closely with professionals in the fields of biology, chemistry, earth science, engineering, environmental science, medicine, psychology, and public health. Seniors Divya Minnaganti and April Moon spent a portion of their summer participating in this program studying in their field.

As appealing as the program sounds to science lovers, it’s hard work that takes dedicated individuals to complete.

“I’m really interested in science, but I wanted to have a more hands-on experience. I had heard that in STARS, I could have the chance to work on real-life projects in labs alongside graduate students, so that’s why I decided to apply,” Moon said.

When trying to understand your future it’s important to get a hands-on experience in order to know if this field is right for you.

The program looks for students entering into their senior year looking to expand their knowledge through research. Minnaganti received advice from the previous STARS program participants in order to help her succeed there.

“They [other students that participated in the program] always told me about how not only the research experience was enriching, but also how you create very impactful relationships with both peers and mentors. This made me think that this was a very important opportunity, and so I decided to take advantage of it,” Minnaganti said. 

Not only does it look great on a college resume, but this program gave these students a chance to be in a real lab experiencing exciting new things that give them an idea about a future career in science.

Throughout the program, students participated in different experiments like testing compounds that could prevent or reverse type two diabetes.

“My favorite thing I did in the lab was probably freezing the mouse muscles we dissected with liquid nitrogen. The fog from the nitrogen was everywhere, and it really gave me that stereotypical ‘mad scientist’ vibe that people imagine,” Moon said.

The ability to research something so relevant in our society instead of the basic high school science appealed to anyone on a science career pathway including Moon and Minnaganti.

When Minnaganti signed up for the STARS program she had her future career in mind.

“I’ve always wanted to earn my MD,” Minnaganti said. “The biggest takeaway that I gained from the experience was that even after earning my MD, I want to come back to research and help improve vaccinations and medications. I also gained a lot of professional work experience, because I had to meet with professional scientists about my work on a daily basis.”

STARS required the many students like Moon and Minnaganti in the St. Louis area to dedicate everything into their program when they could be relaxing, which showed off their goal-oriented mindset.

Although the program provided in-depth exposure to the scientific world past high school, there are some downsides to the program.

“Getting up early to attend the lectures was hard, especially because it was summer break. I also wish I could have had a chance to meet more people in the program, but it was hard to do that because all of us were almost always listening to lectures or working in our respective labs,” Moon said

The downsides were certainly outweighed by the positive experience they had at STARS according to Moon and Minnaganti.

All students are seen as academically advanced in the STARS program and completed amazing research over the summer, but some students were awarded excellence for the paper following that research. Moon won the award alongside other students she worked with.

“The highest scoring papers were then selected as an award winner. I actually didn’t find out until only a few weeks ago, but I was so surprised and honored that my paper was chosen, and glad that the work I had put in for six weeks had really paid off,” Moon said. With the help of her mentor and peers, she was able to receive the Award for Excellence in Research.