Silence was broken on a Saturday morning in the corridors of a university by receiving students of grades 80 from the tenth to the twelfth from various public and private schools in the country, at the beginning of a new edition of the Academic Institutional Follow-up Program for Talent (Al Masar).
Created with the purpose of training and mentoring adolescents with academic talent and creating a winter base for young researchers in science, the PISTA Program is an initiative of the National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (Senacyt), which has been developed since 2013 in various universities in Panama.
This time, the headquarters of PISTA is the Interamerican University of Panama (UIP), where selected students attend every Saturday after a series of exams seeking scientific profile and abilities. Classes run from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with an intensive summer class and a scientific research project as the final work (in 2025), prepared under the guidance of a professional researcher. It is a 20-course training in three years, structured in the form of a scientific master’s degree, with specializations in biology applied to health, psychology, engineering or technology.
TRACK . EXPERIENCE
This is the third time that UIP has run PISTA. The first is from 2016 to 2018, the second from 2019 to 2021 and now it will be in 2022-2025. There will be nearly 10 years of extracurricular training for students like Maria Alejandra Gonzalez, Genesis Quintana and Carlos Alberto Mendoza for all they have learned, what they will learn and the personal growth they have experienced since entering the programme.
María Alejandra, 16, has been a part of PISTA-UIP since the beginning, in 2016. She remembers that it all started with handouts handed out at her school, detailing how to compete for a place in the classroom. “I have always liked science in general, especially subjects like biology, chemistry, everything related to animals and genetics, more specifically. The experience was great, PISTA helped me a lot in school and to develop as a person,” says the student from the Santa Maria La Antigua Bilingual Institute.
Meanwhile, Genesis got into the second PISTA developed by the UIP, thanks to the fact that information about the call reached him through the mother of one of his classmates. The lady brought the leaflets and took the initiative to distribute them. I did the exams, got into PISTA and the classes helped me a lot with my homework, I saw a good part of the material first in the PISTA courses and then in the school. In these four years in the program, I also loved the psychological guidance they gave us and met so many people I can count on today,” says the 16-year-old student from Rubiano Institute.
Carlos Alberto is also a first-generation PISTA-UIP 2016. “The experience was great. I learned things I probably would never have learned in school and the classes have helped me a lot not only for the science content, but also in other complementary skills, such as The drama, which at first I thought would be boring, but I loved it, as well as the experiences I had with group mates, ”said the 16-year-old student at the Italian Institute Enrico Fermi.
Yeni de Quintana, Génesis’s mother, says it is an honor to see her daughter participate in a non-curricular program that helps her prepare from now on in areas where she is interested in growing and dedicating herself professionally.
Laura Rodriguez, Maria Alejandra’s mother, appreciates that after six years in the dynamics of PISTA, the training was not only in the academic part but was comprehensive, providing the tools so that young people learn to deal with the situations they will face later. Their life-track as professionals.
Olides Solis, mother of Carlos Alberto, also highlights the opportunity for interaction and closeness achieved with his classmates. Solis explains: “Sometimes for boys who dedicate themselves to their studies, the social part in schools is very limited, but at PISTA they find friends with common interests. The gain has been academic and personal.”
Panama has, on average, about 225 scientists per million inhabitants, an estimate below the global average of 1,000 researchers per million inhabitants.
For this reason, one of PISTA’s missions is to serve as a home for scientific researchers. “Our country is very short of scientists and there are many children with an affinity for science, but no direction is provided towards a career in science, and after the first editions of the program, we saw many children with the desire and need to develop their talents,” says Gina Della Togna, Director of Research and Innovation at UIP and General Coordinator of PISTA at UIP.
“We are looking for scientific academic talents, people who demonstrate a great capacity for logical reasoning, skills related to observation, planning and hypothesis testing, ability to explore different alternatives to solve a problem and dynamic and flexible thinking,” Della Togna details, describing the profile of the 80 students who are part of the course .
Omaira Rodríguez, Deputy Director of the Department of Scientific and Technological Capabilities Development at Senacyt, points out that the aim of the program is for talented young people to develop their creativity, expand their knowledge and, above all, develop their critical thinking through an innovative and outstanding learning experience by enhancing their academic talents through courses And workshops aimed at innovating scientific projects.
The PISTA initiative has been developed since 2013 in various universities in the country, during which 527 young academic talents were discovered and followed.