To compete in today’s global, high-tech economy, the United States is becoming more dependent on workers and leaders prepared in STEM fields; however, national studies indicate that too few American students have the requisite knowledge and skills in science and mathematics to participate fully in today’s economy. The United States trails sixteen countries in Europe and Asia in the proportion of each country’s college population who earn degrees in science and engineering. This situation is only complicated by the shortage of qualified science and mathematics K-12 teachers. The need to address this issue has never been more acute. Since 1989 we have partnered with the local school districts and the county office of education to provide students and teachers with opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research. We firmly believe that the success and prosperity of our community and its citizens relies on these long-term commitments. We are in a unique position to develop programs that help increase student achievement by leveraging existing relationships and our deep connection to the community to create an innovative and scalable model for this national problem.
One of our programs, the High School Student Research Education Program, exposes students to contemporary issues in biomedical research and provides hands-on research experience. This eight-week 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 commences in May, when they meet on five consecutive Wednesday afternoons (Spring Tutorials) in Scripps’ Community Teaching Laboratory. Then the interns attend a one-week training course (Boot Camp), which is held in conjunction with other summer internship programs on the Torrey Pines. Immediately after boot camp, interns conduct research in the laboratory with a mentor for seven-weeks (eight hours per day, five days per week). Together the intern and mentor craft a research project that takes the intern through the scientific process; this includes research planning, bench experience, experimental design generation, data analysis and interaction with laboratory personnel. The intern works 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.
Several of the students in this program, work in laboratories with stem cell or developmental biology research programs. These programs include identifying molecules that control their self-renewal, defining and characterizing cells and pathways that confer pluripotency, treating lysosomal storage disorders, pioneering the reprogramming of neurons to pluripotency, treating cardiovascular disease, understanding and treating cancer, studying the self-renewal and migration of neural stem cells and studying glycomics.
This program raises awareness of stem cell research in treating disease and improving human health.