Photo by Jenna Marshall

The mentor leans into the laptop as his protégé calls out the data points: “5, 9, 27... Montreal, Chicago, Arizona.” Their screen transforms into a colorful network map.

“It’s not like anything I’ve done before [in science classes],” says Christopher LeSueur, a high school student who meets weekly with his mentor, SFI Postdoctoral Fellow Laurent Hébert-Dufresne. “It’s more statistics, and I have a greater appreciation for working with real models.” 

The two take part in SFI’s mentorship program, which is part of a city-wide program called Inspire Santa Fe. SFI joined the program in November 2014, hosting eight mentor-protégé pairs that meet at the Institute’s Cowan Campus to pursue independent research projects.

The project this pair has undertaken combines LeSueur’s passion for sports with Hébert-Dufresne’s network science acumen. They are devising a new ranking system for NHL hockey teams based on trade networks. Hypothesizing that trade networks hold promise for evaluating hockey teams (because the trades tap into the collective expertise of the team managers who are making trade decisions), the researchers are waiting to see whether their metric will predict team success more accurately than measures based on a team’s previous-year performance.

“We didn’t have anything like this when I was in high school,” says Hébert-Dufresne. “All the experiments were designed, and we knew the results beforehand. Here, we are studying, in a nonprescribed way, something that really exists.”

“All of the students are doing college-level research projects, some of which might result in co-authorship with their mentors in a scientific journal,” says Juniper Lovato, SFI’s Manager of Schools, Residencies, and Community Outreach. “On the mentors' side, I think this experience has been very rewarding. It’s a chance to connect with the Santa Fe community.”