About a hundred people gathered inside of Wake Downtown in Winston-Salem last Friday morning. 

There were more than a dozen tables set up with pipettes and petri dishes and other scientific gadgets. Behind each display was a teenager from a Title 1 school in Forsyth County. 

Nineteen students were selected to participate in Wake Forest University’s LEAP program, which stands for Lab Experiences: Academics and Professions. 

It’s a six-week paid summer internship that pairs high school students with mentors from the university. Together they worked in labs conducting experiments and research. The goal of the program is to introduce traditionally underrepresented minorities to STEM education opportunities and careers. 

Alana James, the director of Wake Downtown, says the interns came a long way over the course of the program. 

“They demonstrated a curiosity, eagerness, and most importantly, a willingness to step outside of their comfort zone, and do something that they've never done before, and potentially something that no one in their lives had ever done before," James said. 

That was true for Jose Toscano, a rising senior at Glenn High School, who teared up while presenting his project at the symposium.

“That’s why I got emotional up there talking, because I'm the first in my family to go to college, planning to go there," Toscano said. "And I had no one to look up to. And this program just helped me in general to like, build my future and find a college that I want.” 

The students' research projects will be featured in their home schools in the fall.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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