In a matter of weeks, Anderson County High School junior Cole Foust transitioned from studying in an advanced placement environmental science course to contributing to environmental research at the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory.
The Next Generation STEM Internship Program (NEXTGENS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) allows local high school students to participate in a STEM-related project with staff at the lab. Knowing Foust’s scientific career aspirations, his teacher shared the opportunity with him.
Under the mentorship of Natalie Griffiths, Ph.D., in the Environmental Sciences Division, Foust spent his summer assisting researchers on the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project. The project aims to assess the response of northern peatland ecosystems when exposed to varying amounts of carbon dioxide and increases in temperature. Foust’s daily activities involved sorting through plant litter samples and weighing them in preparation for carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus analyses.
“With this data, we can see how these litter types and larger amounts of carbon dioxide will cause them to break down faster,” Foust said.
Foust was pleased by the welcoming environment at ORNL. Despite being younger than most researchers, Foust received encouragement and guidance from staff members. His experience at ORNL confirmed his passion for science and desire to pursue higher education. He is undecided about his specific career path, however, he recognized the value of his interactions with high-caliber researchers and his introduction to research techniques.
“This program allowed me to be hands-on and to do lab data collection and analysis and see firsthand if this is something I am truly passionate about,” Foust said. “I would encourage others to apply for the NEXTGENS program and build professional relationships and friendships.”
The NEXTGENS program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.