A group of 12 San Diego high school students has been waking up early all week and making the most of their summer break. If you look at their Facebook pages you might see updates saying things things like, “OMG, silencing DAF2 gene in C. elegans–amazing.” An internship program taking place at Sanford-Burnham demonstrates that the right educational opportunities have the power to get young people excited about science and perhaps change their lives.
That was the case for Tony Chau, who completed the Sanford-Burnham/Preuss School UCSD Summer Internship program in 2009. This fall he heads to Duke University, complete with a scholarship, to double major in Biomedical Engineering and Economics. “The internship program helped me greatly through the rest of high school and in applying to college,” he recalls. “The people I met and the experiences I had will stay with me throughout my career.”
A new group of promising students experienced the program this week, working side-by-side with researchers at one of the nation’s fastest growing medical research institutes. They spent one day each in the labs of Dr. Duc Dong, Dr. Malene Hansen, Dr. Hudson Freeze, and one day in the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics with Dr. Thomas Chung. They gained hands-on experience in areas such as aging, cancer growth and cell death, and drug discovery. At the end of the week, they presented their findings in a poster symposium and were honored at an awards luncheon.
This was the fourth year of the collaboration between Sanford-Burnham and the Preuss School UCSD, a charter school that provides rigorous college prep for students from underserved communities. The internship program is possible thanks to the generosity of Sanford-Burnham Trustee Peter Preuss and his wife, Peggy, and Chair-Elect Wain Fishburn and his wife, Debby. Additional support comes from Amy Corton and Carl Eibl. Of course, the program would not be possible without the scientists who so willingly share their time and talent.
Tony recalls how he first became interested in science while taking a high school chemistry class. “I learned that there are these particles that make up objects, and that you can manipulate them, almost like LEGOs. There’s so much potential – it was so cool.”
As his interest in science blossomed, he applied to the internship program, which amplified his interest. His relationship with Dr. Hansen has continued since his internship and he consulted with her on a project involving gene manipulation in C. elegans, tiny worms that Dr. Hansen uses to study aging. “She and the other mentors at Sanford-Burnham really gave of their time to teach and encourage the students,” he says.
He will take the experience with him as he pursues his dreams of earning a Ph.D. and pursuing a career in science. “One of my goals is to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs across the U.S…. especially opportunities for underprivileged kids. I got that idea because of Sanford-Burnham.”