Interdisciplinary Science & Research (ISR)

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The Interdisciplinary Science & Research (ISR) program is for students who are willing and able to pursue science at a high level. ISR is a sister program to the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). Both are collaborations between the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach and Metro Nashville Public Schools. The main difference between ISR and SSMV is that SSMV students spend one full day each week on the Vanderbilt campus, whereas ISR is a regular class that meets on the Hillsboro campus in a state-of-the-art science lab.


The ISR program is interdisciplinary, encompassing the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, and engineering. Students are allowed to enter the program in either their freshman or sophomore year and are expected to continue through their senior year. Four cohorts of students have now completed the program, crowning their work with a senior science project on a subject that engages their interest. The program is problem based and uses a coaching-mentorship model to develop research, scientific communication, and collaboration skills.

“The reason I like ISR is because it’s challenging. It actually pushes me and it doesn’t allow me to think about an easy A. What I’ve learned is how to manage my time … and how to work with others.”
—Warsame S.

Laboratory and field work represent approximately 60 percent of the student’s effort, with content and communication skills comprising the remaining 40 percent. During the exploratory year (9th grade), background is provided in statistical analysis and in the content areas of chemistry, physics, environmental science, engineering, and biology. Students begin the pathway by exploring real-world problems in detail, setting up experiments, analyzing data, and writing reports of the findings. By their senior year, they are identifying problems to research, designing their own STEM investigations, and communicating their research to the public.

Peer Group

Your student will find a peer group in ISR that is motivated, diverse, and academically capable. Working closely together for three or four years, each ISR class forms a tight-knit learning community that is supportive and collaborative.

“My favorite thing about ISR is the community that we’ve created … all of the friends I’ve made and all of the support.”
—Madison H.

ISR and IB

ISR is a pathway within Hillsboro’s Academy of Global Health & Science. A dual pathway option is available, allowing ISR students to be co-enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme or the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme. Students also have the option of taking individual college-level classes (IB or AP) on an a la carte basis.


Dr. Josh Swartz is the lead teacher (click here for bio). He is partnered each year with a postdoctoral fellow from Vanderbilt University. Currently, Dr. Daniel Michel (click here for bio) is the fellow working with Dr. Swartz to deliver the ISR program at Hillsboro. The program director is Dr. Jennifer Ufnar, a Vanderbilt faculty member with a Ph.D. in biology.

Selected Achievements of ISR Students

  • Median ACT score of 28, with one third scoring above 30
  • 2015 National Merit Scholar and 2016 National Merit Semifinalist
  • 2015 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology Semifinalist
  • 12 students selected for Vanderbilt’s 6-week summer research internship Research Experiences for High School Students (REHSS)

College Matriculation

Colleges attended by recent ISR graduates include:

  • Belmont University—Full Ride Scholarship
  • Rhodes College—Full Ride Scholarship
  • Lee University—Full Ride Scholarship
  • University of Colorado at Boulder—Full Ride Scholarship
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Dartmouth College
  • George Washington University
  • University of California at Los Angeles
  • University of Chicago

Application/Acceptance Process

The ideal candidate for ISR has a passion for science, is highly motivated, and possesses a strong work ethic. Students who wish to participate in the ISR program at Hillsboro must apply to be considered for admission.

Click here to download the 2018-19 Hillsboro ISR application

Applications are accepted for rising 9th and 10th grade students. (Note: Incoming Hillsboro students who complete an SSMV application will automatically be considered for admission into ISR if not accepted into SSMV; a separate application for ISR is not required for these students.) Admission decisions are announced on a rolling basis. If you have any questions about the program or the application process, please contact Dr. Swartz (