Samya Isa’s scientific workspace is usually her home in Plano. But this past summer, the 16-year-old did research in a more sophisticated setting – a laboratory at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“Honestly, it was the first lab I’ve ever done an experiment in, so I was new to everything,” she said. “It has been great to get to know how a lab works and get an idea about the day-to-day successes and failures.”

Samya, who is the Kathryn and Ashley H. Priddy Young Scientist Award winner, is no stranger to research.

Southwestern Medical Foundation established the Priddy Award in 1993 to fund an annual two-month summer research fellowship for an outstanding high-school student who participates in the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

“I’ve been entering science fairs nearly every year since I was in kindergarten,” said Samya, a senior at Plano East Senior High School.

For her science fair entry, she conducted experiments to test if various essential oils could stop bacterial growth. Her project explored how oils could be used as a natural product alternative for treating bacterial infections.

As a Priddy Award scholarship recipient, Samya took part in the Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern (STARS) summer research program, an honor that included working in the lab of Dr. Linda Baker, Professor of Urology in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and Director of the Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Center for Pediatric Urology.

“Students in the STARS program are typically thrilled to learn they’ll work in a lab to participate in real research,” said Dr. Stuart Ravnik, Assistant Dean of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Associate Director of the STARS program.

“Although the Priddy Award comes with the monetary supplement for the summer, I believe the winners would say that the most valuable part is to be able to do research and be a part of the STARS summer research program,” Dr. Ravnik said.

Samya said the hands-on experience has been very rewarding, especially in the anatomy lab.

“I dissected worms and frogs in school, but to actually look at human body parts was really amazing,” she said.

As part of STARS, she heard a presentation on stem cells by Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and holder of the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.

After the presentation, she even got some advice from Dr. Morrison about which college she should attend – and the value of research experience regardless of what field she pursued.

“UT Southwestern really is my dream medical school,” Samya said. “My experience here has been absolutely wonderful and has strengthened my motivation to continue along the medical and research path.”

The Priddy Award is funded through the Kathryn and Ashley H. Priddy Fund, which was created in 1992 with a $50,000 gift from Amanda Amsler, Kathryn Priddy’s mother, and combined with an endowment fund established in 1984 honoring Ashley Priddy.

“It is a tremendous thrill to see a talented and eager young scientist, like Samya Isa, benefit and develop in science as a direct result of the generosity and foresight of the Priddy family,” said Kathleen Gibson, President of Southwestern Medical Foundation.