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YES!, Where Interns Work With Tiger Family Trees, Moon Mining and Even Rodent Skeletons

by Angela Han -- Jul 2, 2014
Angela Han, National Outreach Coordinator for the YES! program

Angela Han is the National Outreach Coordinator for the museum’s YES! (Youth Engagement through Science) program.

The YES! interns of 2014 pose for a group photo with their mentors and the museum's Youth Programs staff. Photo by Smithsonian Institution.
The YES! interns of 2014 pose for a group photo with their mentors and the museum's Youth Programs staff. Photo by Smithsonian Institution.

Seriously, where else can high school interns analyze small mammal skeletons, design extraterrestrial mining curriculum, and skin and stuff mammals for mounting in an exhibit? Only in the Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) program at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The 2014 YES! program kicked off last week. Thirty local high school students will spend the summer and fall utilizing the best the museum has to offer for young science-minded students: conducting research, developing communication and leadership skills, learning from our science experts, and getting a head-start on college prep courses.

“There’s a need to increase interest and awareness of the diversity of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” says Elio Cruz, Youth Programs Coordinator. “YES! addresses this need in a highly interactive and unique way.”
 
Students from the greater DC metro area who are in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades are invited to apply to the program each November. Over several months their applications go through a rigorous review process. In the end a select group of students are invited to an in-person interview. This year about 10 percent of applicants were invited to participate in YES!
 
The core of the program is the six-week summer research internship. Students are given the opportunity to work behind the scenes with museum mentors; these are Smithsonian science staff who volunteer to pass along their knowledge to a new generation of scientists. This year’s projects include researching the evolution of mammalian carnivores in the Department of Paleobiology (think tracing the family tree of a tiger!); designing a mining curriculum in the Department of Mineral Sciences (mining the Moon and Mars!); and skinning and stuffing research specimens in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology (mounting a mammal!). Placements include internships within the Natural History Museum, but also opportunities at the Smithsonian Gardens, National Zoo, and Air and Space Museum.

In addition to their research internship, students also get the unique opportunity to interact with the public and engage with visitors on a regular basis, both in the exhibit spaces and in Q?rius. In the fall, students receive a top-notch leg-up in college prep, including field trips to several local universities.

And yes, there really are students who work with rodent (mice, shrews, voles) and bat skeletons. 2012 YES! alumni Melissa Ramos and Tho Tran describe some of their work with a type of bat:

We learned how to identify skulls by observing the dental structure, and skull characteristics. For example, the diet of Noctilio leoporinus can be defined by looking at the sagittal crest, which tells us it is probably a carnivore – in this case fish. We used clues like these and dichotomous keys to classify and catalog specimens.

Check back each week for new blog posts about YES! written by the interns themselves. By summer’s end they’ll be uncovering clues to knowledge in several scientific fields and gaining insight into stimulating careers.

Categories: YES! Teen Interns
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