Vol 8. Issue 14 / April 28, 2008

Success Stories in the Making

By Mika Ono

Anyone walking by the Scripps Research Science Outreach office recently would have seen it piled high with some dozen two-foot-high stacks of paper, carefully stapled, sorted, stacked, and checked.

"Applications for the high school summer internship program have arrived," says Marisela Chevez, who coordinates The Scripps Research Institute's science outreach programs in La Jolla, California. "This year we have received 230 applications for about 25 positions currently funded on our campus."

The review committee is currently going through the submissions, struggling with the task of separating the truly outstanding from the merely excellent.

"The quality of the candidates is remarkable," says Chevez. "We have been working hard to encourage applications from all parts of San Diego County, so that as many schools as possible are represented in the program. In reviewing the applications, we're looking for academic excellence, intellectual curiosity, and a passion for science."

Students will be notified in the next week if they have been selected as one of those to be interviewed by telephone for the program at Scripps California. The students that clear that hurdle will then interview with participating Scripps Research labs to find a good match.

This year, funding for the students has been secured from the Valenzuela Trust, the Hearst Foundation, and—a new supporter—the Legler Benbough Foundation. The amount of funding received each year determines how many students can be accepted into the program.

"Our experience has been that the internships can be incredibly beneficial, both for the students and for the labs," notes Chevez. "Several interns have been authors on recent scientific papers, three won first prize in their division at the 2008 San Diego Science and Engineering Fair (one of these capturing the Grand Prize), and many go on to attend top-tier colleges. One student from last year has just been accepted on a full scholarship to Harvard."

Rigorous Preparation

The Scripps California high school internship program rolls out in three phases. First, the students attend a series of enrichment tutorials for the remainder of the spring. The students then attend a week-long intensive lab prep "boot camp," before landing in the lab for seven weeks of hands-on research experience.

The spring tutorials, which are organized by Scripps Research Kellogg School of Science and Technology doctoral students, cover various aspects of modern molecular biology and chemistry. Topics include: "DNA & Forensics," "Biomolecular Visualization,"  "Cells & Microscopy," "Chemical Synthesis and Combinatorial Chemistry," and "Rational Based Drug Design and Drug Discovery."

For the graduate students, the program provides teaching and curriculum development experience, as well as the thrill of seeing young people get excited about science.

"The Scripps Research internship program is outstanding for both the students and those who are mentors," notes Kris Koudelka, a Ph.D. candidate in the Manchester lab who is one of the outreach curriculum coordinators. "Students get excellent experience in how basic biomedical research really looks and feels in addition to the confidence that they are capable of completing high-level investigations. Through this program, the mentors are not only able to hone their communication and teaching skills, but can give back to the community through the subjects they really love."

The one-week training session at the Southern California Biotechnology Center at Miramar College further sets the stage for the summer's lab work. In the course, which can count as two college credits, students learn basic lab procedures and various soft skills, including documentation, notebook entry, and lab safety.

Introduced last year, the "boot camp" is made possible by a partnership with the Life Science Summer Institute, sponsored by the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Biocom. The training is held in coordination with neighboring institutions Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Burnham Institute for Medical Research, which also offer summer internship programs and which share the high school intern applicant pool.

Hands-On Experience

Once in the lab, each intern assists in some way in a specific research project under the supervision of a mentor. The interns are included as much as possible in productive lab activities and the normal life of the lab, with all its joys and frustrations.

In previous years, students' summer projects have ranged from the study of proteins involved in the human immune system, with particular focus on mapping the three-dimensional structures of these proteins at the atomic level, to the study of the chemistry of sulfur mustard compound, 2,6-dichloro-9 thiabicyclo[3.3.1]nonane.

In addition to time spent at the laboratory bench, the interns participate in weekly get-togethers featuring lunch and lectures from Scripps Research faculty and scientific staff, as well as field trips to local biotech companies and other points of interest.

At the final meeting in August, students each step up to the podium to present their research to peers, mentors, parents, and supporters.

"This entire summer has been intellectually stimulating… in a completely different way than in the classroom," commented one intern, Sherry Chen, after spending last summer in the McGowan lab. "It was more in depth and required more independence and thinking."

Other summer internship programs on the Scripps Research La Jolla campus are targeted at high school and middle school teachers or undergraduate students interested in immunology.

The teacher program, funded by an endowment established by John Diekman and his wife Susan Diekman in 2001 and monies contributed by other donors, brings several high school and middle school teachers to campus for the summer. The teachers learn modern laboratory techniques during the summer, enriching their teaching and curriculum when they return to the classroom in the fall.

The Summer Internship Program in Immunology for Undergraduates, which is coordinated by Assistant Professor Julie Jameson, offers laboratory experience to about a dozen undergraduates from across the country. The program aims to expose undergraduates to state-of-the-art research, introduce them to the Scripps Research graduate studies program, and inspire them to pursue a career in the field of immunology.

Scripps Florida Program Grows

Now in its third year, the Scripps Florida campus offers its own summer internship programs, modeled on those offered at the La Jolla campus.

Supported by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, the six-week internships enable select Florida teachers and high school students to learn about contemporary issues in biomedical research and to work alongside world-class scientists and their staffs.

"We have a very intensive program designed for our interns this summer," said Deborah Leach-Scampavia, Scripps Florida's Education and Outreach Administrator. "For both students and teachers, the program will emphasize the scientific process, research planning, in-laboratory experience, experimental design, data analysis, and interaction with Scripps Florida researchers."

The Florida education outreach program continues to grow each year. This year, the three teacher and 11 student interns were selected on a competitive basis from a highly talented pool of 90 applicants. 

To date, teachers and students from 15 of the 20 public high schools in Palm Beach County have participated in the summer internship program.

"Following the completion of the laboratory projects, two students from last summer's program were offered part-time laboratory technician positions in our cancer biology and drug discovery laboratories," Leach-Scampavia said. "This is the kind of real world success that we hope to build on."

Accolades Abound

The Scripps Research internship programs have produced many success stories.

In Florida, Seminole Ridge Community High School senior Lucas Ortiz, who interned last year in the Busby lab, took first place in the biochemistry division at the Palm Beach County Science and Engineering Fair. He then went on to capture the Jane C. Hart Award of Excellence that designated his as the "top project overall" at the fair. Ortiz's other honors include being named South Florida Science Museum 2008 Student of the Year.

At the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, three interns from last summer's programwon first prize awards:

  • Mt. Miguel High School senior Laika Roy, who interned in the Vogt lab with mentor Research Associate Marco Gymnopoulos;

  • Mt. Miguel High School senior Adella Fejeran, who interned in the Potter/Carragher lab with mentor Research Technician Teddy Ajero, Jr.; and

  • Theresa Tran, who interned in the Kuhn lab with mentor Ph.D. candidate Dena Marrinucci, who is also one of the outreach curriculum coordinators for the spring seminars. In addition to her first prize award, Tran also captured the overall Grand Prize in the Senior Division and was hired to continue to work part-time in the Kuhn lab.

"I've had the opportunity to mentor two high school students here at Scripps Research," says Marrinucci. "Each experience was phenomenal and I have watched both interns learn a great deal in a very short period of time while learning so much myself. These interns became integral lab members and contributed to ongoing transdisciplinary research. Theresa winning first prize in the science fair this year was just the icing on the cake and we are all just so proud of all the great work she did."

Other 2007 interns recently receiving honors include Vogt lab intern Minh-Thu Tran of The Preuss School, who won the Biocom Undergraduate Scholarship and the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and Barbas lab intern Jamie Tran of Mira Mesa High School, who was named class valedictorian and has been selected for a University of California, Los Angeles Regent's scholarship. Both are the first in their family to go to college. 

For more information on the Academic Preparation and Educational Outreach Programs in La Jolla, California, visit the website or contact Chevez, mchevez@scripps.edu.

For more information on the Summer Internship Program in Immunology for Undergraduates, visit the website or contact Gloria Jones, gjones@scripps.edu.

For more information about the Scripps Florida Education Outreach Programs, visit the website contact Deborah Leach-Scampavia, leach@scripps.edu.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu






The review committee is currently going through the applications for summer internships on the California campus, struggling with the task of separating the truly outstanding from the merely excellent.












Lucas Ortiz, who interned in Assistant Professor Jennifer Busby's lab last summer, recently captured the Jane C. Hart Award of Excellence for "top project overall" at the Palm Beach County Science and Engineering Fair.














Research intern Theresa Tran (left) and mentor Ph.D. candidate Dena Marrinucci of the Kuhn lab pose in front of Tran's Grand Prize-winning poster at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair.