Vigorous Youth

Young Scholars student-leadership program has launched new generations of science professionals


In 1989, only about 60 percent of African American students across the U.S. graduated from high school and only about 20 percent graduated from four-year college degree programs.

That was the national average, but in some areas students of all races and income levels fared much worse. That was the situation in Griffin, Georgia, when University of Georgia administrators were looking for a way to commemorate the centennial of the Griffin campus. 

In an effort to connect the campus to the community, the entire student population of Griffin High School was invited to tour the campus, leading to the establishment of the Griffin campus Mentor Program in 1989. 

That initial program eventually became the Young Scholars Program, a first of its kind initiative at UGA that began as a way to introduce underserved area teenagers to college life. Now the program is the state’s premier public university research opportunity for high schoolers. 

“It made sense to have a program like this to introduce students to the collegiate experience, and since we were very much involved with agriculture, the students were going spend their summers in the labs of faculty of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences,” said Jerry Arkin, retired assistant provost and director of the UGA Griffin campus, who helped launch the Young Scholars Program. 

Since its inception, more than 900 Georgia high school students have participated in the program, working alongside world-class CAES researchers on UGA’s Griffin, Tifton and Athens campuses. Students are able to work in labs and contribute to real research efforts, preparing them for the college experience.

Young Scholars are paid for their time, so students who may need to work during the summer can still participate, and they are expected to behave like employees in their labs, meaning they learn those early professional skills many students don’t pick up until college or after. 

The program has launched the research careers of many students and broadened the horizons of students who may have never thought of careers in agriculture. 

As the program reaches new milestones over the next few years, program coordinators are working to contact Young Scholars alumni and gather their recollections about their time in the program and how it impacted their lives. 

Young Scholars Program alumni who would like to share their experiences should contact Victoria David, administrative director of the CAES Office of Diversity Programs, at 

For more information about the program or how to apply, visit 

By Merritt Melancon