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A Window Into Science: Northside ISD Summer Mentorship Program

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Author: MaryAnn Hobbs | Category: Community Outreach | August 11, 2017

Eight high school students selected to participate were carefully chosen from 10 Northside Independent School District high schools to present their research projects on Aug. 10 to an audience of family, friends, and GSBS faculty. 

The students were part of the 26th annual Northside Independent School District summer mentorship program.

“This unique opportunity is a window into science for the students, it’s an investment in our future and the future of science,” said Rosemary Riggs, an education development specialist and director of the Northside ISD mentorship program at UT Health San Antonio.

After many phone calls and lists of potential labs and research projects, Riggs coordinated these top-performing high-school juniors (to-be seniors) with mentors throughout departments within the School of Medicine.

“As a former high school science teacher, I know that sometimes teachers don’t always know all the science careers that are out there,” Riggs said. “There are new careers in science every year and we just want the kids to know their options.”

This summer they worked closely with both junior and senior mentors (from faculty to graduate students) to get a taste for what being in research is all about.

Sandeep Dickerson, a teacher for Northside ISD, met with the students for a few hours each week to help them learn how to maintain their lab notebook, speak about their work professionally, or just for general counseling through challenges faced when working in science research.

Seven of the eight program participants explained the role they had in the current research going on throughout the GSBS—while the eighth student, Rodrigo Gonzales-Rojas, was attending an interview for Yale. Many of the students found the opportunity extremely educational, and that research was much different than they would have anticipated it would be.

Carl Johnson was the first student to speak about his summer research in Dr. Naomi Sayre's lab and his work with graduate student Sadiya Ahmad, which focuses on the LRP1 protein and how it is related to dementia and neurodegeneration.

“My role in the lab was specifically to optimize the immunocytochemistry, to get the best results possible for current and future experiments,” Carl explained to the audience. “The immunocytochemistry is optimized through taking pictures of cells and differentiating different structures present. The most frustrating thing I learned is that science can be slow, I took so many pictures of those cells and most of them were useless,” Carl said when looking at a slide with two pictures on it, which was a major aim of his summer research.

Dr. Myron Ignatius' lab hosted the second student to talk, Sydne Ward. She spoke of the labs cutting edge research on the cancer Rhabdomyosarcoma, using the animal model of zebrafish.

“Because of the zebrafish’s translucency, I was able to do cell tracking experiments using fluorescent proteins,” explained Sydne. “My interest in research grew because it was more of a challenge than I had expected…I wasn’t as good at it as I thought I would be, at first.”

The eight-week science immersion program taught Sydne and her fellow participants that turning laboratory science experiments into meaningful information and translational therapies requires skill and patience, and one has to be up to the challenge to be a successful researcher.

Makenzie Cooper was in Dr. Tekmal Rajeshwar’s lab, where they conduct research on breast cancer in postmenopausal women. For her project she was able to prove their synergistic approach was successful in slowing cell proliferation.

“I utilized techniques such as cell culture, MTT assays, and wound healing assays,” Makenzie said. “I struggled learning all the background information you need to know before even understanding what is going on but it was really rewarding to see the results.”

Throughout these presentations and all the rest, it was clear that these students had been provided a unique opportunity to be truly immersed in the realm of science. Though some may have liked it more than they thought or less than they thought, every student involved learned that science research is much more than what they do in their high school lab class.

After listening to the students talk it is hard to believe they are only in high-school. They were all grateful for the great opportunity afforded to them by the UT Health Science School and by all the people involved. A special thank you Rosemary Riggs, Sandeep Dickerson, Teresa Evans, Alice Feedler, and David Weiss for running and supporting this outreach program. Programs like this keep students interested in science and helps connect researchers to their community. Can’t wait to meet the outstanding students the 27th annual Northside ISD summer program will bring!

The participants in the 2017 summer program included:

- Daniel Cao (Brandeis High School)

- Mackenzie Cooper (Brennan High School)

- Margaret Godfrey (Brandeis High School)

- Rodrigo Gonzales-Rojas (Health Careers High School)

- Carl Johnson (Science and Engineering Academy)

- Jeffrey Knoop (Communication Arts High School)

- Sydne Ward (Brandeis High School)

- Jingsi Zhou (Brandeis High School)

About the Author 

MaryAnn is currently a research assistant in the Cellular and Integrative Physiology department, with hopes of attending a Biochemistry and Structural Biology graduate program in fall 2018.

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