By St. Louis Public Radio | August 4, 2021

The St. Louis-based program Science Coach is all about projects that go beyond winning a blue ribbon at the science fair. It engages science teachers in public, private and home-school settings to recruit students and help them develop an idea for a project and then see it through.

Science Coach Executive Director Jill Malcom said students aim to tackle the world’s most vexing problems with their research.

“We actually train our teachers to coach our students to do high-level, very advanced, authentic research. And then that research has entered into competitions. And then from there, if they come up with something, then we actually help them in that innovation to entrepreneurship,” Malcom said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Elijah Jones is among the program’s participants. He’s a recent graduate of Jackson High School in Jackson, in southeast Missouri. Jones created part of the process for synthesizing a compound in plants that could make drugs for cancer, malaria and Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease, significantly more affordable. Jones will continue his science research at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale this fall on a full-ride scholarship to study chemistry.

Jones also joined Wednesday’s program. He said science projects have interested him since the eighth grade. But doing experiments in his front yard via a makeshift chemistry lab wasn’t enough.

“I wanted to try doing something that could really make a difference in the world,” he said. “The big problem with doing research as a high school student is actually getting access to facilities. I can work at my home all I want, but ultimately, the chemicals and equipment that I need are going to be thousands of dollars, and I just can’t afford that or get access to that on my own.”

Science Coach started in 2007 and formed a partnership with BioSTL, the St. Louis-based organization that promotes and invests in biotech startups, in 2018. While it is based in St. Louis, the program is offered nationally.

Jones’ high school teacher, Leanne Thele, won a grant to help cover the cost of traveling from Jackson to St. Louis to visit the BioGenerator Labs at BioSTL this coming school year. There, students will work alongside professional scientists.

“We’ve actually created an entire system that not only offers professional development for the teachers, but also access for the students and support for the students so that they can excel,” Malcom said.

Part of that system involves volunteers, Malcolm added.

“We’re looking for volunteers who can help us in some virtual remote ways; we have some that are subject-matter experts. We need mentors, retired, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “And if you want to sponsor a particular student, we have various different ways to sponsor research.”

“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Listen at St. Louis Public Radio