Student finds attending high-school and SFU a perfect mix

Burnaby North Secondary School student William Shen (left) is supervised in the lab by SFU professor Carl Lowenberger. (right)

January 10, 2018

Seventeen-year-old William Shen spent most of his free afternoons last fall commuting to SFU to take Genetics 202 and Intro to Biological Research 298.

Thanks to SFU’s Concurrent Student Program, accomplished high school students like Shen, who has a GPA of 4.0 out of a possible 4.3, are able to apply to take credit courses at SFU before completing high school.  

Kathryn White, manager of academic programs for the Faculty of Science says, "SFU's Concurrent Studies Program is a great way for high-achieving students to sample campus life and gain university credits before committing to full-time enrolment."

Shen has aspirations to study medicine but he’s eager to figure out which area most intrigue him. His interests range from immunology to surgery, and he is on a single-minded hunt to find the school that best fits his needs.

Surprisingly, Shen already has more training under his belt than many university students. Between Grades 10 and 11, he spent the summer at the University of Chicago where he earned university credits and gained fieldwork and lab skills.

He returned to Burnaby North Secondary School for Grade 11 while also completing an internship in antibody purification and malaria rapid-test production at Biogate Labs in Burnaby. 

After completing Grade 11, he spent the summer at Cornell University’s Research Apprenticeship program, as the Canadian representative among 12 students selected worldwide.

Shen’s experience at Cornell drove his interest in immunology and the common traits shared by mammals, invertebrates and humans. He returned to Burnaby North for Grade 12 and joined SFU’s Concurrent Student Program.

One of the SFU courses he chose was a directed-study class that provides exposure to laboratory methods in a research lab. He was particularly keen to work with biology professor Carl Lowenberger, an expert on Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that transmits human diseases.

Under Lowenberger’s supervision, Shen began to examine differences in gene expression between mosquitos that can transmit the Dengue fever virus, and those that cannot.

“Right now, dengue has no specific treatment,” says Shen.  “Finding the genes that contribute to a mosquito’s ability to transmit dengue could lead us to the possibility of engineering mosquitos that are resistant to the virus.”

While Shen has completed his SFU coursework, he continues to spend two or three days a week tending to his project in Lowenberger’s lab.

He says he is grateful to have had such early exposure to research and post-secondary coursework, especially at SFU.

“UChicago, Biogate Labs, and Cornell provided excellent introductions to research. But at SFU, I wasn’t just assisting with someone else’s research, I was designing and working on my own experiments.”

He credits Lowenberger for “making me much more knowledgeable as a researcher and more confident as a science student.”

Still, Shen hasn’t quite decided which university to attend.

One option is to accept an offer of early admittance with full tuition to Harvard University.But he says he is taking the time to explore all options before making his final decision.