SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Southwood High School seniors get the opportunity to explore the medical field away from the classroom and in a lab through a unique program.

The BioStart program allows Southwood seniors to spend their first-semester conducting research projects with a mentor at LSU Health.

“It’s always just fascinated me, the human body and how it worked. And so, when this opportunity came up to go work in a hospital, get research, and see the behind-the-scenes, I was like oh, I really want to do this,” said one of the BioStart students, Emelia Salter.

Six students are accepted into the program and are paired one-on-one with a mentor who best fits their personalities and research interests. The students then come to LSU Health every day for two hours to work, then go back to Southwood to complete the school day.

“Ever since I was a freshman it’s always been a thing that the seniors do. You know it’s like, the most prestigious of the class, the top six. They always come and do this- this program. So, I was like yeah, whenever I’m a senior, I’m going to go do that,” said BioStart student Brantley Welch.

For Salter and Welch, their experiences are different. Salter has always had a love for the medical field because her parents are in the field. For Welch, he was just curious to try something new.

“At the time, I didn’t even think that I wanted to do medical. I was just I jump at every opportunity. You know like every summer camp, regardless of the field, I just like to go and do stuff,” said Welch.

BioStart allows students to see if the medical field is one they want to pursue before they even set foot on a college campus.

“We start from what basically a cell is, what type of cell you want to grow, why it is important. Why is this cutting-edge research and why the research has to be focused in this particular area? And what are the techniques you can develop within that duration of time? And whether I am able to give them that spark,” said one of the six mentors, Dr. Manikandan Panchatcharam.

Dr. Panchatcharam is an associate professor of Cellular Biology and Anatomy.

The President of the foundation over BioStart says the purpose of the program is to highlight the positive achievements at Southwood.

“Workforce development starts in high school. If we want a high technology type of environment in Shreveport and Bossier, we need to have kids that know about math and science,” said John George, CEO and president of Biomedical Research Foundation.

The program recently received an endowment, so they are looking to partner with another school.

“If anybody out there is interested in what we’re doing at Southwood or would like to expand in the city, or even Desoto Parish or Bossier City. This is our region, and we want to help our entire region,” said George.

As of now, Welch is grateful for the program but hopes to transition to engineering. Salter hopes to become a nurse practitioner.

“Not many high schoolers that I know of personally, will ever get to see something like this. The most they’ll probably see is just like the inside of a biology classroom. And this is like, unlike anything that I would ever learn in high school,” said Salter.