West Virginia's Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) celebrated student success at the first of its two 2016 Science Symposia, held Saturday, April 30, at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center.

More than 350 students from northern West Virginia and the eastern panhandle spent the day presenting research results and learning about science.

The symposium opened with comments by WVU President E. Gordon Gee, and closed with an awards ceremony recognizing the day's top presenters and a motivational speech from Dr. Jo Ann Robinson, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Bluefield State College. HSTA will hold a second symposium for its students in our southern counties at Bluefield State College on May 7.

Science Symposium is a major program requirement HSTA students fulfill each year. It represents the culmination of the annual “community-based participatory research projects” that students conduct under the guidance of HSTA teachers, HSTA community research associates, clinicians, and scientists.

Through these projects, students identify, examine, and address health issues faced by their communities, and they involve community members in data gathering, results analysis, and the formation of solutions. This year's student research covered a wide range of issues, including West Virginian’s resistance to getting the flu vaccine, the link between fast food consumption and kidney disease, water quality, and using social media to support healthy lifestyles.

During the symposium, students presented their findings to a panel of judges and received scores based on prescribed criteria. Scores were averaged per participating high school and awards were given to the top high school from each HSTA region.

This year's winners were:

  • Cameron High School, Ohio-Marshall region
  • Morgantown High School, Monongalia-Marion region
  • Hedgesville High School, Eastern Panhandle region
  • Webster County High School, Braxton-Webster region
  • Calhoun County High School, Roane-Calhoun region
  • Preston High School, Mountain HSTA region

A grand prize was also awarded to Webster County High School for achieving the highest score of the winning schools.

Between presentations, students participated in workshops on health topics like neuroscience, nutrition, and anatomy. They also attended talks by representatives from the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Health Careers Opportunity Program.

“Our students make me proud,” said Dr. Ann Chester, Director of HSTA. “They do every year. The research they undertake in their communities is real—it addresses real problems, it gathers real data, it leads to real solutions. Our Science Symposia give them a chance to share their success with West Virginia while building the skills they need to succeed in college and their own careers. They work hard. They make a difference. And I'm confident they will continuing doing so far beyond their time with HSTA.”

The Health Sciences and Technology Academy’s mission is to help West Virginia’s youth with high untapped and often overlooked potential to succeed in STEM and health careers. The vast majority of HSTA graduates obtain a college education and many earn advanced degrees.

HSTA's primary goals are to increase college attendance in Appalachia, improve STEM education in public schools, empower communities through youth leadership, and increase the number of health care providers and STEM educators in underserved communities. HSTA is primarily funded through a designated line item in the West Virginia state budget.

This program is also supported in part by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54GM104942 and National Institutes of Health Science and Education Partnership Award Number R25 OD010495-04 and West Virginia University.