FL Women in Science - Part 3

From left to right, Jasmine Roberts, Carmen Austin and Sabiha Kazim
From left to right, Jasmine Roberts, Carmen Austin and Sabiha Kazim
TAMPA (2009-03-19) -

WUSF concludes its "Florida Women in Science" series by chatting with two future scientists from Wharton High School in Tampa. They're teenagers, yet both are conducting collegiate level research in cancer and Alzheimer's Disease.

The trophy case in the front office at Wharton High School is floor to ceiling and full of athletic awards. But, somewhere inside are Science Brain Bowl trophies also.

Carmen Austin teaches Advanced Placement biology at Wharton. She has a long and successful track record of her students advancing to the state science fair and even some to the international science fair.

There's Jasmine Roberts, a 15-year-old sophomore, whose experiment looked at whether diabetes increases the progression of Alzheimer's Disease.

Another top student is Sabiha Kazim, a 17-year-old junior, whose science project researched which type of Vitamin E would effectively kill more cancer cells in the pancreas.

Austin says one of her jobs is to link students like Sabiha and Jasmine with researchers at the university level. Once they have their data, Austin provides a critical eye and preps the young scientists for competition.

"She gave me tips on how to present myself to the judges and it actually worked and I was really, really happy," Sabiha says. "I was so confident and I've never been like that before."

This will be Sabiha's first year competing in the state science fair and she was up against a tough competitor, her classmate Jasmine who has a lot of experience.

"It started off when I was in elementary school and I would do summer camps at MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry)," Jasmine says. "Not only did I participate in science fair, but my brother did and he kind of inspired me to follow in his footsteps and maybe take his footsteps a bit further, a little brother sister rivalry."

Jasmine has the potential of "one-upping" her brother because she's made it to the state science fair ever since her 6th grade year. Her brother, now a college junior, didn't make it until 7th grade.

Additionally, Jasmine's science projects have won her national recognition. Her 8th grade project investigating bacteria content in fast food restaurant ice landed her on TV news programs like Oprah.

Family motivates Jasmine beyond the friendly competition with her brother. She chose her topic because of a family history of Alzheimer's Disease and diabetes.

Sabiha, whose father is a cancer researcher, has similar motivation. Her uncle passed away from esophageal cancer.

The young women are focused, passionate and don't hesitate when asked about their future ambitions. Both want to become doctors. Sabiha's greatest dream is to cure cancer. Jasmine wants to become the U.S. Surgeon General by age 50.

They both lament that athletes seem to have more societal status than scientists, but they think they can change that too. And if Jasmine and Sabiha have their way, someday high school trophy cases will be filled with more academic awards than athletic trophies.

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