Vol 7. Issue 11 / April 2, 2007

Opening the Door to Science

By Mika Ono

The committee debated the merits of the two grant applications. Which project would have the greatest impact? Were the proposals realistic? And would the $1 million in the budget be better spent spread between both projects or supporting only one? 

Thus began The Scripps Research Institute's 2007 spring tutorials on the La Jolla campus. The committee was made up of high school students and teachers. The applicants, who made 15-minute pitches explaining their projects, were Scripps Research investigators Jack Johnson and Gary Siuzdak. The $1 million was, unfortunately, fictional.

"We had a lively debate on the merits of the two proposals," said Marisela Chevez, who directs the Scripps Research Academic Preparation and Outreach Programs. "The participants brought a lot of enthusiasm and thoughtfulness to the exercise."

The "Grants, Money, and Science" workshop, held March 28, was led by graduate students Sara Brownell and Kathryn Applegate, who introduced the session by giving an overview of the challenges of funding scientific research. After listening to the two proposals, the participants decided to award the bulk of their "money" to Johnson, but Siuzdak also received support.

The seminar and welcoming reception launched two spring programs at the institute, one for high school students the other for teachers. Both programs are designed to provide participants with knowledge of contemporary issues in basic biomedical research and to fan participants' enthusiasm for the field.

The 22 students in the 2007 Research Education Program will attend seminars led by doctoral candidates on a variety of topics, including DNA and forensics, biomolecular visualization, cells and microscopy, virology, chemical synthesis/combinatorial chemistry, and rational based drug design and drug discovery. These same students will go on to work as part of a Scripps Research lab this summer, also meeting regularly with graduate student mentors for help with the college application and selection process.

The six teachers in the Science Partnership Scholars Program will explore similar topics, but in a curriculum that includes hands-on experiments and state-of-the-art research techniques the teachers can bring back to their classrooms. Their program will end as the summer begins to dovetail with school schedules. Summer internships are available for teachers, but require a separate application.

Internships for Florida residents are also available on Scripps Research's Jupiter campus.

New This Year

While Scripps Research outreach efforts date back to 1989, several new elements were introduced to the La Jolla programs this year.

For the first time, Scripps Research pooled resources with programs at neighboring institutions—the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, which also offer summer internships. Directors of the three programs met with the Life Sciences Summer Institute, sponsored by the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Biocom to work out a combined application form. Those candidates who submitted completed applications but weren't chosen for the Scripps Research program will roll over into the pool for internships at the other institutions.   As an added bonus, this year's interns will attend a one-week training "boot camp" at the Southern California Biotechnology Center at Miramar College and will be eligible to receive two college credits for the course. 

Also this year was a renewed effort to recruit participants to Scripps Research who would be the first in their family to attend college. Chevez visited some half dozen schools across the county to make teachers and students aware of the program, especially in East and South San Diego County.

In fact, the number of applications—more than 100—was an embarrassment of riches. Chevez admits the Scripps Research committee had to struggle to choose among the candidates.

"So many wonderful kids applied, it was really difficult to make our selections," she says. "We were looking not only for academic excellence and individuals from populations underrepresented in the sciences, but also for a genuine passion for science."

This year, positions in the student program have been funded by Amparo Valenzuela and Hearst Foundation. The amount of funding received each year determines how many students can be accepted into the Scripps Research program.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu





Students and teachers weigh Associate Professor Gary Siuzdak's "grant proposal" to use mass spectrometry to screen newborns for certain molecules that predict disease. Photo by Kevin Fung.