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Stanford PhD’s supercharge DP research skills

Alex FAST photo

The Future Advancers of Science and Technology (FAST) program was created by Stanford University students to provide mentorship and scientific resources to students outside of school. Students at Andrew P. Hill High School receive support from FAST volunteer mentors to fund, develop and present their science projects.

By Radhika Hira 

Cooper Galvin, a graduate student at Stanford University, realized there was a need to support curious younger students pursing an interest in the sciences. This need, coupled with lack of access and resources for scientifically-inclined students led him to create the Future Advancers of Science and Technology, or FAST.

Graduate students are volunteer FAST mentors, providing scientific tools, research guidance and funding for high school students as they develop their individual science projects. High school students then present their completed projects at local and state science fairs and are also invited to showcase their work at a symposium on Stanford University’s campus.

“We’re a title 1 school with a lot of future first-generation college students, so it’s a great way for our kids to get support for the research they need to complete”—Mike Winsatt, DP Coordinator, Andrew P. Hill High School

Alex Dunlap is a graduate student and the chief program officer for FAST at Andrew P. Hill High School. With other mentors, he supports IB students who are building their DP research skills. Although not all the mentors have previous experience with the IB, they are able to engage IB students to critically think about, develop and implement research skills.

In addition to science resources, FAST also provides other student resources like workshops and advice to prepare for college applications, scholarship applications and even internships.

“I had begun working on my IA for my IB Physics SL class, and I thought the FAST program would help provide me with the mentorship necessary to deliver a thoughtful research paper”—Sunny Tran, DP graduate

Andrew P. Hill High School’s IB coordinator, Mike Winsatt, works with DP students, including those that participate in the FAST program. On the importance of having FAST at Andrew P. Hill, Winsatt says “we’re a title 1 school with a lot of future first-generation college students, so it’s a great way for our kids to get support for the research they need to complete, be it in their general courses, their IA projects, or their extended essays.”

Mike also notes that the mentors, “provide our students with direct support for higher-level thinking and inquiry projects that they can’t readily access. All our science students benefit from having this kind of resource available to them.”

From an IB student’s perspective

Sunny Tran, Diploma Programme (DP) and FAST graduate from Andrew P. Hill High School is now studying computer science and engineering with a concentration in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) We caught up with Sunny and his fellow DP grad, Mayeann Acosta, who is studying kinesiology at the University of San Francisco for their take on the FAST program.

Sunny Tran | MIT '21

I learned about FAST through my chemistry teacher, who had been publicizing the program for its initial launch (I was in the first ‘graduating class’ of the program). At the time, I had begun working on my IA for my IB Physics SL class, and I thought the FAST program would help provide me with the mentorship necessary to deliver a thoughtful research paper. By working with Stanford graduate students who have already had experience in the field of research, they were able to give more effective feedback.

I do not think there was a specific thing which stood out the most; rather, it was the experience as a whole that was most valuable: I learned what it meant to conduct formal research, which I continue to do now at MIT. High school students do not typically have research experience, but the FAST program helps ensure students gain the skills necessary for success in IB and also in higher education.

I had initially joined FAST for the unique research experience I would be receiving in the program. Looking back on the program and its impact on my experience with the DP, I realize that many of the skills taught in FAST complimented my experience with IB. For example, the scheduled meetings with our mentors and the feedback we were receiving taught me to efficiently manage my time and be reflective upon my work. Applying these skills to my other IB classes, I am able to develop a sense of intellectual curiosity and often find myself wondering how I can apply my knowledge to greater issues we face in our world today.

The mentors were one of the core reasons why FAST became so successful and resonated well with students. Their ability to take students with no research experience and transform them to become well versed in the field of research can be attributed to the mentors’ past research experience. In our current age of constant scientific and technological advancements, research ability is becoming an increasingly demanded skill in academia and industry. The FAST program is helping foster such skills at an early age, driving tomorrow’s next researcher towards solving problems around the world.

Mayeann Acosta | University of San Francisco '21

FAST was promoted by my IB science teachers both my junior and senior year so we could get extra help and guidance for our IA. Although, I did not participate in my junior year while I was in IB physics, I decided that I should in my senior year to reach my full potential. I believed that I could do so much better with just a little support, so I decided to turn to the FAST program for help, and I’m so glad I did.

One thing that I took away from my mentor was that we do not know everything and that’s okay. There were times I had a question that my mentor couldn’t answer, so we researched together to find answers and sometimes we couldn’t come up with a conclusion. I think there is value in not knowing everything. I believe it’s our lack of knowledge that drives us to find knowledge. If we knew everything, we wouldn’t have the motivation to do research.

I truly believe that having mentors through FAST benefited the IB community in our school because it provided us with people we otherwise would not have met. Also, our teachers could only help so many students at a time, so having this person we could turn to for help, who knew exactly what our projects were about, helped me a lot. My mentor was extremely supportive of me and the other mentors were friendly as well. The science building on Saturday afternoons was a place we could all share ideas with one another and see the progress our peers are making.

FAST forward

The graduate student-led FAST program has found success in mentoring high schoolers and has been receiving requests to continue at other schools in the area. Moving forward, the FAST team hopes to grow their program and funding to continue supporting children’s scientific curiosity. For additional information on the FAST program, click here.


Radhika Hira is the community relations specialist at the International Baccalaureate (IB). She earned her BA in Public Relations & Strategic Communication and Psychology from American University in 2018. She currently lives in Washington, DC where she enjoys museums hopping, corgi meet-ups and true crime documentaries. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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