The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI)/UC Berkeley Summer Stem Cell Research Internship Program for High School Students is a collaborative effort between two institutions that collectively represents a range of exciting developmental and stem cell research training opportunities for high school students. It augments an established summer research program that has been providing biomedical research experiences to high school and college students. They were part of a larger cohort of undergraduate, and post baccalaureate students under the umbrella of the CHORI Summer Research Program. During year 2 of the CIRM Creativity Award-funded program, high school juniors and seniors, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups, worked closely with their mentors on a one-on-one basis in state-of-the-art research labs in developmental and stem cell related projects. They developed a hypothesis-driven research plan and tested their hypothesis with hands-on research receiving appropriate training in tools and techniques in a “boutique-style” individualized training approach. The trainees were exposed to a rigorous and structured curriculum that kept them engaged in a vibrant scientific research environment. They attended a series of structured research-related seminars on current topics in health and disease by leading scientists in the Bay Area, actively participated discussions regarding research careers, and underwent a rigorous training on ethics and integrity in academia and research and responsible conduct of research. Finally each participant presented his/her research work in a one-day CHORI Summer Student Research Program Symposium in an oral or poster format to an audience comprised of their peers, mentors, family members, physicians, clinicians and basic scientists.
The trainees also participated in a second area of interest unrelated to their core biomedical research project, the theme for which varies from year to year. In an effort to foster creativity and to “think outside the box” the theme we selected for summer 2013 was “Performance Arts”. Communication in an effective way is an essential aspect of scientific research- scientists need to disseminate information and communicate to their peers effectively: verbally during conferences and meeting, and in writing through grant proposals, publications, and other means. The rationale behind involving the trainees in Performance Arts is to gain insights into effective communication from on-stage performers. In addition, it is critical that scientists communicate to the public in an effective and concise way that will engage the listener. To accomplish these objectives, the CHORI/UC Berkeley Summer Stem Cell Research interns volunteered as ushers for two plays at the Orinda Cal Shakes amphitheater: Romeo and Juliet and Lady Windermere. They mingled with the elite audience in various capacities, and watched the plays as well, in addition to performing various service activities. In addition, they were enrolled in an Improv class from a Bay Area Theater company, and went for live performances as well. This allowed them to think on their feet, and fostered spontaneity and articulation. Overall, it was an incredibly enriching experience, which enhanced their communication and articulation in a non-evaluating atmosphere. In the words of one of the trainees, “Through the [stage and Improv] experience, I look forward to exploring my own curiosities…… and learn about myself….I have realized that the best researchers have other interests outside the world of academia and research…”. Another stated, “I was not discouraged to continue despite failure and this was something very important that I got out of these classes”. If we make a mistake, “…. it’s not the end of the world as long as you get back up on your feet and start again. This energy will be greatly needed in science”. Clearly, these sessions taught the students a lot more than communication and articulation that were originally intended!
By attracting trainees at an early stage during a formative time of their lives, this program helped to stimulate high school students’ interest to pursue a career in stem cell research. It informed and increased the awareness of the exciting new advances and possibilities with stem cells, in addition to offering new career opportunities and effective communication skills. The program served to nurture the future generation of stem cell researchers in California. In summary, each student gained a remarkable research experience and exposure to stem cells and developmental biology through this program. The CHORI/UC Berkeley Summer Stem Cell Research Internship Program contributes towards producing a generation of stem cell researchers who can approach problems in new ways, which is necessary for new breakthroughs and to keep California competitive internationally in the stem cell field.