High School Students Get Hands on Experience at UConn Chemistry Early College Experience Day

Students from eight high schools participated in the day-long event, performing a photoswitching chemistry experiment

Student conducting chemistry experiment in lab

Berlin High School students work in one of the Chemistry Building labs during the Early College Experience Chemistry Student Lab Day on May 23, 2024. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

More than 100 students from eight high schools across Connecticut gathered in the UConn Chemistry Building last week for a day of hands-on lab experiments.  

The UConn Early College Experience (ECE) Chemistry Student Lab Day brought students from Rocky Hill High School, Immaculate High School, O.H. Platt High School, Enfield High School, Berlin High School, The Woodstock Academy, Somers High School, and University High School of Science and Engineering, for a chance to get hands-on, practical experience at a college laboratory.  

The schools are among at least 25 high schools offering UConn accredited Chemistry courses 1127Q and 1128Q. The more than 425 high school students who enroll in these courses must meet the same prerequisites and earn the same grades as undergraduates to obtain college credit.  

Professor In Residence of Chemistry Fatma Selampinar, who organized the event in collaboration with the UConn Early College Experience Program, said the event allows high school students to bridge connections with faculty members.  

“I’ve always liked working with high school students,” said Selampinar, who also serves as the faculty director of the Global House Learning Community.  

A group photo of high school students in chemistry building
Over 100 area high school students who attended the Early College Experience Chemistry Student Lab Day pose for a photo with Dr. Michael Kienzler, assistant professor of chemistry at UConn, in the Chemistry Building on May 23, 2024. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Nearly 30% of UConn last year’s freshmen were alumni of the ECE program, which offers close to 100 courses across 40 different disciplines in five UConn schools and colleges.  

On Thursday, students broke off into six groups and completed activities hosted by Michael Kienzler, an assistant professor of chemistry. The lab that students participated in, titled “Synthesis and photoswitching of azobenzene,” was a simplified version of Kienzler’s research.  

Kienzler explained that studying photoswitching, the property of a molecule to change its shape based on the color of light shining on it, helps us understand different biological processes and work towards treatment of conditions like some types of blindness.  

Selampinar and Kienzler explained that the experiments and hands-on activities are designed to enable students to see some of the techniques used by researchers in their labs.  

“Lab day allows students to learn about the research happening in UConn’s chemistry department,” said Selampinar. “For example, photoswitching  is not something typically mentioned in our chemistry textbooks.  Additionally, while the students are on campus they get to interact with graduate student teaching assistants and use the same laboratory facilities that UConn students do.” 

Students also toured research facilities, saw the department’s mass spectrometry lab and played with the department’s interactive periodic table. 

Noah Kerelejza, a junior at O.H. Platt High School in Meriden, said he took the course after taking an accelerated chemistry course, and thought the two classes would be similar. However, he said he learned a lot in the ECE course and gained a lot of background scientific knowledge.  

Ethan Cleveland, a junior at O.H. Platt, said he has always been interested in science and took the ECE course after other students recommended it. While he plans to one day become a physical therapist and hopes to come to UConn to study kinesiology, he found broad experience in the ECE chemistry course.  

Two students performing an experiment in a lab.
Berlin High School students work in one of the Chemistry Building labs during the Early College Experience Chemistry Student Lab Day on May 23, 2024. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Chloe Rollins, a junior at Berlin High School, wants to pursue a career in pharmacy and said the ECE course provided her with great background knowledge for the college courses she will eventually take.  

“[I’m] going to take chemistry and other gen eds, so this prepares us for that,” Rollins said.  

 Anousha Hashim, a junior at Berlin High School, said she would recommend the course to other high school students, especially those who want to challenge themselves.  

“We’ve done lab work in school, but I want to see what the lab work is like at UConn and the difference between a college experience as opposed to guided labs in high school,” she said.