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Teens are high achievers with faculty as mentors

Len Taing has spent the last two summers writing graduate-level research papers on physics. He will be a junior in high school this fall.

Len was one of 74 students participating in the UConn Mentor Connection, a three-week summer program in its second year, that places talented teens with UConn faculty members who share their interests. Many of the participants, like Len, worked at the level of graduate students.

The program offered 40 mentorship sites this year from which the students could choose. Notable among them were the AIDS Risk Reduction Project, Commit to be Fit, a broadcast media site, and computers and problem-solving in physics.

The students involved in the AIDS project with mentor Jill Wodopian, a program assistant in the department of psychology, produced a 30-minute survey-based video discussing the consequences of unsafe sex and the myths about AIDS. The video centers on interviews with and by Mentor Connection students that illustrate what teens know and how they feel about the disease.

Seven broadcast media students worked with David Horrigan, a doctoral candidate and adviser to UCTV to compile a 20-minute documentary video that explored the relationship between mentors and proteges. The video uses clips from the various mentorship sites filmed by the media students to document the program in an upbeat way and will be used to advertise the program in the future.

At the Commit to be Fit site, under the guidance of David Camaione, students developed a system for designing individual fitness programs based on fitness tests they conducted. They were also able to make recommendations to improve the fitness levels of those who tested for them. Camaione is a professor of sport, leisure and exercise sciences.

Len Taing, a junior from Bridgeport and a returning Mentor Connection student, co-authored his second physics paper with physics professor Gary Bent. He co-authored the first while he was at the Mentor Connection in 1996.

Those who were involved with the program last year feel for the most part that it has improved in many different ways, but its focus has remained the same. The idea has always been to challenge students with what they care about, said Jeanne Purcell, program director. "This is the first time these students have really been challenged outside of high school in fields that they are truly passionate about," she said.

The program was established with a $300,000 gift from UConn trustee William Berkley. At a banquet for the students and their mentors on the last day of the program, Berkley told the students, "Life is the reflection of a series of decisions made over time. I hope that all the decisions you make will be as good as the one you made when you joined this program."

Nadira Hira and Kevin Barbero

Mentor Connection students Nadira Hira of Westhill High School in Stamford and Kevin Barbero of East Hartford High School, wrote this article as part of a mentorship with University Communications.