Richmond, Va.
Friday, July 25, 2014

VCU Summer Research Programs for High School Students Offer Hands-on Research

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

This summer, high school students participating in medical and science training programs at Virginia Commonwealth University had the chance to explore some real-life research questions alongside faculty mentors and to learn some useful lab skills.

Recently, they shared and celebrated their hard work during a research symposium before faculty, fellow students and their families.

The five- and eight-week long summer programs were designed to provide high school students a hands-on experience in the health care and medical research fields. Seven students from Richmond-area high schools had the opportunity to shadow faculty in a variety of medical specialties, to attend lectures and to conduct research with a laboratory mentor.

Of the students participating in the research symposium, four had participated in the VCU Medical Science Internship Program and three were from the VCU National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Summer Sickle Cell Science Program.

“With a national shortage of physician scientists, our hope is that the program will kindle the interest in healthcare and medical research among high school students,” said Elyse Anderson, director of the VCU Medical Science Internship program. Anderson was a participant in the program in 2008. She is currently a rising senior at VCU in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and is on track to attend the VCU School of Medicine next fall.
 
“We hope that each of them will continue pursuing their interests in medicine and that we have opened doors for them to begin their journey of becoming both a physician and a scientist,” Anderson said.

After learning about the program from her guidance counselor at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, Ishani Premaratne eagerly applied for the VCU Medical Science Internship Program and was happy to take part in the program this summer.

“For me, the hands-on experience was very helpful and will be a good foundation as I move forward into university and later,” said Premaratne, who recently graduated from high school.

This summer, Premaratne worked in the lab of Cynthia Cornelissen, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the VCU School of Medicine, studying the molecular mechanisms of the human pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Premaratne gained lab training skills and learned more about the scientific method.

“From my perspective, it is critically important to introduce high school students to research laboratories and hypothesis-driven research,” Cornelissen said. “From these experiences, students will be able to understand how science is really conducted and as a consequence will become better-informed members of society, regardless of their ultimate career path.

“These early experiences in research laboratories also have the potential to entice students into science-related careers, including research and medicine. Therefore our efforts to mentor these young, enthusiastic students can have a lasting and positive influence on the shape and breadth of the scientific community in the future.”
 
Through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Summer Sickle Cell Program, students gained hands-on learning in a research lab investigating issues related to sickle cell disease. The program is run through the VCU Center on Health Disparities in the School of Medicine.

The program adviser for the VCU Medical Science Internship Program is Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., associate dean of admissions for the VCU School of Medicine.

This year’s participants included:

VCU Medical Science Internship Program - Class of 2011
Bethany Bruno, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, Richmond, Va.
Mentor: Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology, VCU School of Medicine
 
Ishani Premaratne, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, Richmond, Va.
Mentor: Cynthia Cornelissen, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the VCU School of Medicine

Jagannath Kadiyala, Mills E. Godwin High School, Henrico, Va.
Mentor: Rita Shiang, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics in the VCU School of Medicine

Kathryn Marqueen, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School
Mentor: Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Division, VCU School of Medicine

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Summer Sickle Cell Science Program - Class of 2011
Ayanna Tyler, Franklin Military Academy
James Scales, The New Community School
Nikita Bhojani, Henrico High School
Faculty advisor: Martin Safo, Ph.D., Department of Medicinal Chemistry

VCU faculty mentors and students participating in the VCU Medical Science Internship Program(MSIP) this summer gathered to share their work during a research symposium. From left to right, Elyse Anderson, director of MSIP; Ishani Premaratne, one of four MSIP interns; Virag Patel, co-director of MSIP; Agnes Mack, director of admissions for the VCU School of Medicine. Images courtesy of Elyse Anderson/VCU.
Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., MSIP mentor and professor of internal medicine, pulmonary division in the VCU School of Medicine, and Kathryn Marqueen, MSIP intern.