Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Student Inquiry and Research: Igniting Minds, Shaping Futures

A top priority of IMSA's Strategic Plan is to have its students pursue personalized plans of study based on integrated learning experiences.

IMSA’s Student Inquiry and Research (SIR) Program pairs students with distinguished scholars and researchers, enabling them to pursue compelling questions of interest, conduct and present research findings, engage in entrepreneurial applied science and technology activities, and collaborate with other students, mentors, scholars, researchers and inventors throughout the world.

“Through IMSA’s Student Inquiry and Research Program, students are already making significant contributions to their respective fields which may someday lead them to discoveries that will impact humankind,” said Dr. Eric McLaren, principal and vice president for academic programs.

Samples of recent student investigations reflect some of the problems facing society today including:

Testing the Mental Capacity of Rhesus Monkeys
Sociology of the Internet
The Response of Oligodendrocytes to Normal Appearing White Matter
from Multiple Sclerosis and Control Patients-A Study of the Early Pathology of Multiple Sclerosi
BA-D1:  A Novel Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes

Student research contributions such as these are regularly recognized through publication in professional journals, presentation at research conferences, creation of novel programs, and discovery of innovative techniques.  

The American Chemical Society, the American Society of Cell Biology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Association of Biology Teachers are just some of the professional associations where IMSA students have presented research.  In addition, many have won awards in prestigious national competitions including the Intel Science Talent Search, Siemens Competition, and National Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics; Society for American Baseball Research, and the Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium

SIR Becomes One-Year Credit Course

While the IMSA Student Inquiry and Research Program has undergone several noticeable changes in the last few years, perhaps the most recognizable change is the way students are now granted credit.

In the past, students involved in the SIR program received a notation of participation on their IMSA transcript.  Now, however, students will receive a grade of pass with distinction, pass or fail.  

Coordinator of Student Inquiry and Research Dr. Judy Scheppler said it is a welcome change from previous practice.  “Granting credit to SIR both honors the hard work that students conduct and enhances the credibility of the program because students are held to higher standards, with additional scrutiny,” Dr. Scheppler said.  

SIR Staff Expands to Meet Demand
To meet increased student demand (participation rates are now 67-75%), the SIR program added new staff members.  

"Dr. Mark Carlson, Dr. Peter Clancy, and Mr. Tim Kulak each have a half-time assignment in the Student Inquiry and Research Program," Dr. Scheppler said. "Dr. Carlson's background is in physics/biophysics, Dr. Clancy's background is chemical engineering, and Mr. Kulak's is physics/engineering; all have extensive and valuable experiences working with students," she added. "Their expertise provides diversity and increased student and advisor interactions."

In addition to students interested in mathematics and science, Dr. Scheppler is quick to point out that the SIR Program represents a broad range of study.

“The SIR program supports student research not only in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (about 75% of participants), but also in other fields including fine arts and the social, behavioral, and economic science fields,” she said.

World-Class Laboratory Ignites Learning
The Grainger Center for Imagination and Inquiry (GCII)  gives IMSA’s inquisitive young researchers access to equipment most would not have access to until they were working in research laboratories.  

Thanks to a recent grant to the IMSA Fund for Advancement of Education, students also will be able to conduct specialized genetic research with a new DNA sequencer.   

Looking ahead, Dr. Scheppler said that the “sky is the limit” for IMSA’s SIR students.  She says that SIR will play an even more important role as IMSA looks to meet the individualized needs and dreams of each student.

“As IMSA embraces personalized learning and the new strategic plan, the work and role that SIR plays in student learning will only become stronger and more significant,” Scheppler said.  “Our students are assisting in solving problems that are plaguing us now – new drugs, advances in diagnostics, One-Laptop-Per-Child initiatives, and nanotechnology.  They are also exploring historical battlefields, examining literary works, and creating original novels, plays, short stories, and art work,” she added.

“The creative and intellectual capacity of our students will be honored and utilized more, and in more significant ways, in the future.”

To learn more about the Student Inquiry and Research Program and to view some of the amazing research work currently being conducted by our students, visit