Central Ohio students dive into college and career experiences through Metro Early College High School's learning labs.

With nearly all of her required high-school classes completed, Payzlie Burden-Mickens was eager to move onto college coursework as a junior.

She found an opportunity to do just that — and more — at Growth, one of Metro‘s early college experiences hosted at the PAST Foundation Innovation Lab.

This year, she is studying the world of food that blends classes at The Ohio State University with internships and research projects into her high school schedule at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy.

“I feel like I’m capable of going beyond,” she said. “I want to test the waters.”

Metro’s early-college experiences or “learning labs” link high school and college coursework with industry and workforce needs, said Annalies Corbin, chief executive officer and president of the PAST Foundation, a national education research and development group based in Columbus.

Participants learn core math and writing skills in their high school classes that support their college coursework. They also explore multiple career paths within an industry through site visits. They then intern with research groups or businesses as part of a capstone project where they attempt to solve a problem their mentors face.

This year’s research projects attempt to answer a range of questions: How can lambs be socialized to better participate with visitors at a farm? How can nanotechnology be used to cure breast cancer? Why are residents in low-income neighborhoods not taking steps to be more energy-efficient?

“Through these learning labs, in a very mentored and monitored safe space, students get the opportunity to explore an awful lot of aspects of a given career field or choice,” Corbin said. “That means later down the road they don’t have to spend a lot of time or money going down a (particular) pathway.”

This year, roughly 100 students from across Central Ohio are enrolled in Metro’s earning labs. For the first time, they are under the same roof at a new innovative space just across the street from Metro on Kenny Road.

Currently, the PAST Foundation hosts four Metro Early College labs: “Design” focuses on engineering and robotics; “Bodies” covers healthcare and medicine; “Energy” deals with energy generation, use and sustainability; “Growth” centers on food production and the food system. Additional labs on math and water are being developed.

“The learning centers help prepare you for the job that you want to do,” said Leylani Naphier, a junior at Linden-McKinley.

Naphier is enrolled in the Growth lab and hopes to enroll in the Bodies lab this fall because of her interest in becoming a respiratory therapist. Still, her experiences so far have better prepared her for life after high school.

She now understands the importance of planning ahead so she has enough study time. She also learned how to write a resume, how to interact during interviews and how to carry herself professionally.

“These lessons may be the most important part of the learning labs,” said Erica Perkins, a Linden-McKinley science teacher who has seen previous students finish the program with better critical-thinking and study skills.

“It’s given them a good glimpse of how hard college is,” she said. “Someone isn’t holding their hand. You don’t have daily assignments. It’s given them a good taste of the self-discipline that is needed.”

For Burden-Mickens, the learning lab experience taught her she could take on challenging work.

“I learned how to write a scientific journal the very first day we were here,” she said. “I never wrote one of these in my life… Now, I’m pretty good at writing them.”

Learn more about the PAST Foundation

The PAST Foundation converted a former cold-storage warehouse at 1003 Kinnear Road into an education research and development prototyping facility. The sprawling space hosts Metro Early College High School’s learning labs, a FabLab and a robotics practice field.


Read more about their new digs here.