With the generous support of California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Creativity Award, The Scripps Research Institute is better equipped to provide diverse high school students with the opportunity to become aware of the potential stem cells offer regenerative medicine and the ethical sensitivities they create. The eight-week Stem-Cell Academy which was folded into the High School Student Research Education Program can be divided into two over-arching, intertwined components: curriculum and research experiences. Each is made up of several activities that work together and provide a step-wise, scaffolding approach to improving interns’ critical thinking skills, scientific knowledge, communication skills, and research expertise. The interns’ experience commenced in May, when they meet on five consecutive Wednesday afternoons (Spring Tutorials) in Scripps Research’s Community Teaching Laboratory. Topics including DNA and forensics, biomolecular visualization, stem cell technology, combinatorial chemistry, and drug discovery were selected to ensure that students are exposed to cutting-edge technologies. Then the interns attend a one-week training course (Boot Camp) which started with an assessment of the students’ skill set. Students then learned the following laboratory techniques and soft skills: safety, pipetting, teamwork, gel electrophoresis, how to make solutions and dilutions, and how to keep a good lab notebook. CIRM Scholars also participated in a hands-on stem cell laboratory training course. The course began by introducing key concepts and properties of adult and embryonic stem cells; the later courses were devoted to the ethical and regulatory issues with applying stem cells in various therapies. After the interns demonstrated a proficient level of achievement in the assessment activities of the training courses, the interns interviewed with several mentors and selected a research laboratory.
Immediately after boot camp, interns began conducting research in the laboratory with a mentor for seven-weeks (eight hours per day, five days per week). Together the intern and mentor crafted a research project that took the intern through the scientific process; this included research planning, bench experience, experimental design generation, data analysis and interaction with laboratory personnel. The intern worked on the project under the supervision of a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow or another member of the mentor’s lab until the intern is comfortable with the project and the laboratory setting. The intern then works independently for the remainder of the program.
Interns attended weekly seminars and professional development workshops where the critical elements of the scientific method modeled in the laboratory were reinforced. Interns read current scientific articles and led discussions about the rationale behind the experiments. They also critically analyzed the work, articulated research concepts, and engaged in scientific discourse with their peers. The culminating exercise was the oral presentation of the students’ work at the Summer Intern Symposium which was open to the entire Scripps community. The presentations were approximately ten-minutes long with a three-minute question-and-answer period. The presentations are expected to include background information, significance, hypothesis/specific aims, methods and materials, data with figures and/or tables (if any), data analysis (if any), and future directions (what didn’t you complete). The interns’ presentations were judged by faculty based on the following criteria: preparedness, clarity of presentation, content, and posture and eye contact.
Another important part of the CIRM Academy is training the next generation of scientists to also be good educators and communicators. Whether the interns formally teach in the future, scientists need to make science interesting to others. Toward this end, CIRM scholars made videos describing their research projects. They were encouraged to be ‘creative’ and incorporate rap, popular song parodies, music, costumes, or Shakespeare-inspired poems to make the science entertaining as well as educational. The videos included a brief introduction, expected duration and cost of the experiment, safety concerns, materials, equipment, and methods and protocol.