FOCUS – Red Deer high school student Shawn Matthies is taking part in an extensive research program at the University of Calgary.

Local student receives research opportunity of a lifetime

  • Aug. 6, 2014 3:51 p.m.

Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School student Shawn Matthies, 17, took six weeks this summer to take part in an extensive research program under a mentor at the University of Calgary.

The program offers 50 students across Alberta the chance to be paired with a mentoring researcher in a world-class laboratory to explore what a career in researching health sciences looks like.

“It seemed like a really interesting opportunity. It’s amazing to be accepted and to be in Calgary, paired with an amazing researcher and the other top students in the province,” said Matthies.

Grade 11 students are spread among top research facilities including the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

During his six-week experience, Matthies is working on analyzing data about child behaviour. He is working on an evaluation of an early intervention program with the Calgary Urban Project Society, commonly known as CUPS.

Early childhood intervention is a support system for children typically six years and younger who have been victims of or are at high risk of neglect or abuse.

Usually, these programs are put in place to help these children have access to healthy physical, cognitive and social development in safe environments.

“We’re finding out if kids are affected and if (abuse, neglect) affects child behaviour and academic performance. I help analyze data, and then I will be helping write the background for their research paper and their abstract,” explained Matthies.

He was paired with CUPS through the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program (HYRS program) based on his application and interests.

“Going to the CUPS location has been interesting, seeing what all they do and how much they help families in Calgary. They have pre-school programs, and parenting classes and they have a whole bunch of different health-related areas for counselling. They can even deliver babies there, which I thought was really cool. It’s an excellent building.”

He says that he is thoroughly enjoying his experience through the HYRS program, and that it has helped him explore new career possibilities in research that he’d never considered or even heard of before.

Matthies is also enjoying the experience he has gained from working in a lab – an opportunity that few people his age could receive.

The HYRS program is six weeks long, finishing on Aug. 14th. Through the program, students get to tour such facilities as hospital research labs and behind the scenes areas of hospitals that only staff are generally permitted to see.

There are a variety of tasks, meetings and tours that give breadth and depth to the experience.

“The HYRS program takes us on tours of places like Foothills hospital and research centres. We saw the Nero arm, which is basically like a surgery robot. And we have a talk every week that gives us information on scholarships and universities and things like that.

“We’ve got more tours coming up which look amazing. I really enjoy sciences and math and my lab placement lets me do both at the same time, so that’s great.”

The events and opportunities are bountiful and offer a range of experiences, including the chance to work with a major shoe company and design top quality running shoes, based on research with physics, dynamics and physical benefits.

Another interesting tour includes the Einstein Brain Project, a collaboration of research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, art and biological theory. The project is an immersive experience that looks at neurological processing which could influence the way humans understand perception, reality and the biology of the brain.

The HYRS program was fortunate this year to receive additional funding provided by the Alberta Cancer Foundation that allowed a handful of students to partake in the program who would have not been able to participate otherwise.

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