Alexandor McMillan is a Suwannee High School senior who had a summer unlike most others. McMillan spent seven weeks of his summer taking part in the 59th Annual University of Florida (UF) Student Science Training Program (UF SSTP).

According to UF’s website, “The UF SSTP is a seven week residential research program for high school students who have completed their junior year and are considering medicine, math, computer, science, or engineering careers. The program emphasis is research participation with a UF faculty research scientist and his or her research team.”

McMillan, as well as the other 92 participants in the program, lived on UF’s campus while engaging in ongoing research. McMillan’s seven weeks spent at UF SSTP consisted of 30 hours a week in a lab with a mentor, attending mandatory lecture series, and participating in UF’s environmental health and toxicology class every Tuesday and Thursday. Participants of the SSTP have to write a research paper, give two research talks, and present a research paper. McMillan, and the rest of the participants, were matched with a research mentor based upon research interest, academic background, experience, and career goals.

McMillan first heard of UF SSTP through his uncle and his participation in the past. McMillan’s uncle told Alexandor how to apply and strongly encouraged him to do so with him being so interested in science. McMillan’s uncle learned of Alexandor’s passion for science one Christmas when Alexandor asked for a microscope. McMillan’s uncle got him the microscope and Alexandor’s enthusiasm grew from there. McMillan’s father, Matt, says Alexandor’s interest in science dates back to when he was very young. Matt McMillan says, “Alexandor and I would go fishing at a pond with a dock. From an early age, Alexandor would take a jar and put sand in it to create his own microenvironment and he would monitor it.” Matt McMillan would go on to say, “Around the house I would find all these jars that Alexandor started these colonies in.”

While in the lab, McMillan and his mentor Alicia McGrew, who is a Ph. D student in wildlife ecology and conservation, looked at data he collected while in Apalachicola, Florida. McMillan and McGrew specifically looked at carnivorous plants such as the pitcher plant. McMillan researched two different types of pitcher plants as well as a hybrid of the two. Before going out to Apalachicola, McMillan gathered research on what the plants look like and how they digest their prey. McMillan spent plenty of time trying to find information on the plants with McGrew’s supervision. McGrew says, “He has done an awesome job in growing and learning to find articles and to evaluate whether or not they will be helpful to what he wants to say.”

McMillan’s eyes lit up with enjoyment when speaking on his time out in Apalachicola collecting data. McMillan says, “I was readily prepared to find and record all the necessary observations on each species. Once we got the data, we went back to the lab and started analyzing it.” McMillan notes the whole experience of the program has been memorable but going out and seeing the plants in their natural habit is something he will keep with him. McMillan says, “Actually being able to see the different species of pitcher plants. It was cool to see them all in Florida. I did not know there where pitcher plants in Florida.” McGrew saw McMillan’s interest spike as soon as they went to Apalachicola. McGrew knows what sets the UF SSTP apart from other programs is the hands on experiences the program provides. McGrew says, “The great thing about SSTP is that it is experimental learning. Being immersed in the process is awesome. More programs like this are going to benefit the students because of the experiential learning as opposed to just reading it and trying to conceptually understand what is going on.”