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Science Captures Teenager’s Sense of Wonder



Science Captures Teenager’s Sense of Wonder

By Cindy Brauer

At Arroyo Paseo Charter High School, Lesly Basave was a 4.0 honor roll student and class valedictorian. But this bright young woman wasn’t much interested in science. Then a chance field trip to Scripps Research Institute introduced her to a new world and began a scientific journey that she continues today.

“When I first walked into the Beckman Building and saw the big cube [sculpture], it was like something out of the Transformers movie,” she recalls. Clearly, her perception of science was about to change.

Her interest piqued, Basave was invited to join her school’s 2008 Students Modeling a Research Topic (SMART) Team by Anne Marie Woodhouse, a Scripps Research teacher internship alumna. In the SMART Team program, student groups from San Diego high schools model with researchers in the lab over the course of an academic year. Students receive support and input from a teacher, SMART team program directors, and laboratory scientists. Basave’s school SMART Team worked in Scripps Research Associate Professor Dave Stout’s lab.

Soon after, Basave participated in the Introductory Life Science Experience (ILSE), a two-week San Diego high school program encouraging student interest in the life sciences industry, then once again joined her high school’s SMART team during the school year, this time working in Scripps Research Professor Ian Wilson’s lab.

Basave next applied to and was accepted in the very competitive Scripps Research track of the Life Sciences Summer Institute (LSSI), another local science program for high school students.

“She referenced her very first tour in her application, and we remembered her asking great questions,” recalls Marisela Chevez, education outreach coordinator. “In her application, her great curiosity stood out to the selection committee.”

At Scripps Research, LSSI students participate both in spring tutorials on biomedical research topics and an intensive hands-on, seven-week summer lab internship. Basave joined Luke Wiseman’s laboratory. The research she helped work on—protein misfolding—appealed to her sense of wonder, as she realized, “That all this microscopic activity is going on inside of me that I’m not consciously aware of, activity that’s important to my well-being and good health.”


“I was so scared the first day in Dr. Wiseman’s lab,” she admits. “He was talking about science that I didn’t know. And when I asked a question, he’d pose it right back at me.”

Wiseman recalls, “I threw a lot at her the first week, and I expect a lot of the people in my lab. But Lesly is irrepressible. She never gives up on anything. I made her learn by doing. That’s a difficult thing for someone her age, and I was impressed with her ability to handle it.”

Basave, for her part, learned to appreciate Wiseman’s instructive approach and, by the second week, was “feeling right at home.” At the program’s end, Basave “loved the work. I wanted to come back.”

And she did return to the Wiseman lab. Following the summer session, Wiseman asked Basave to work in the lab as an intern. Juggling her senior-year high school classes and a two-hour bus ride to Scripps Research, the teenager worked on a long-term research project studying C. elegans, a microscopic worm whose similarities to human biology make it an important research tool.

Basave is one of several former interns who have continued their careers at Scripps Research, including Kendra Pivaroff in the Maximov lab, Stacey Moreno in the Friedlander lab, and Reggie Long, senior safety technician for Environmental Health and safety.

Enjoying the Scientific Perspective

The oldest of four children and the first in her family to attend college, Basave graduated from high school in 2011, but continues to intern for Wiseman while attending Grossmont College. The now-18-year-old plans to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, ultimately earning a master’s degree and becoming a nurse practitioner.

Her Scripps Research experiences have helped with college studies. Already familiar with Biology 101 material, she’s a resource to fellow students. Basave also volunteers with the LSSI program, recruiting high school participants, and helps conduct student tours of Scripps Research.

“I’m someone close to their own age,” she explained. “I can relate to them, and they can relate to me. And I tell them about other areas outside the lab in which a career in science can be built—law, communications, administration, etc.”

The demands of college and work in the Wiseman lab fill most of Basave’s day. She devotes her limited leisure time to spending time with her family and her boyfriend, a student at San Diego State University, as well as participating in church activities. The formerly reluctant science student continues to enjoy the scientific perspective, which she describes as “looking at things very zoomed out,” as well as “knowing where the center is.”

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A former participant of Scripps Research outreach programs for high school students, Lesly Basave now works in the Assistant Professor Luke Wiseman’s lab at Scripps Research while attending Grossmont College.