There is a significant push at all levels to improve STEM (Scientific, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities for students in the United States. In July of 2011, University of the Sciences hosted five STEMPREP students for hands-on research training.
(left to right) Dr. Shanaz Tejani-Butt, professor of pharmacology and technology, with STEMPREP students Katrina Simmon and Syrena Bracey
“They are selected students,” said Dr. Shanaz M. Tejani-Butt. “These are not students who are here for just a summer off. They are here for very serious hard work.”
The STEMPREP students are chosen from underrepresented minority communities in a competitive process. Applicants have to submit a packet that consists of a career goals essay, a three-year transcript of A grades, and SSAT scores above the 90th percentile. The committee then interviews the best candidates from this national pool. After the interview process is complete, 60 trainees begin the STEMPREP program the summer after completing the seventh grade.
The STEMPREP students are motivated, independent thinkers, and appreciate the opportunity to learn as much as they can. They are all preparing to become doctors or high level researchers following their high school and then college career.
In addition to the academic commitment, there is a financial commitment. Every year, the STEMPREP students are assigned to a different college to gain training and experience. According to the students, in order to move on to the next level of the program the students have to complete a paper, a power point presentation, and an abstract. This summer, the five students worked on analyzing and recording data relative to their research study. These ninth and tenth graders stayed at University of Pennsylvania where they also had advisors who connected with them daily and assigned them projects outside of their research.
Dr. Tejani-Butt, USciences’ professor of pharmacology and technology and an associate dean in the College of Graduate Studies, had her STEMPREP students work on an animal behavior project. The work that students Syrena Bracey and Katrina Simmon conducted may ultimately benefit patients with post traumatic stress disorder.
“Here I learned more about analytical skills and paying close attention to detail,” said Simmon. “I’ve always wanted to be a physician, but I do like the research aspect of just science in general. I want to work with patients but doing some research doesn’t hurt.
Dr. Natalia Coleman, research assistant professor, and her STEMPREP student, Anthony Spearman, recorded research from the human breast cancer cell line. Spearman learned how to do cell cultures for the first time and various cell culture techniques.
"When you come to do research in my lab you are not simply learning the basics of good lab work/cell culture techniques only to dispose of the results at the end of the experiments. You are doing real research with the endpoint being to work carefully and diligently with these cells over time and to find or discover data that can lead to new and exciting scientific possibilities.” said Dr. Coleman. “Anthony is working towards being able to document potentially significant data, requiring constant attention to detail to minimize the chances of costly mistakes. It is a completely different responsibility then just going to the lab, going through the motions of learning lab techniques and receiving a grade.”
Exploring new research studies may change the minds of some STEMPREP students in regards to a career path, however not for Bracey. “I was never into the neurological areas of studying behaviors, and I’m still not into it,” said Bracey. “But it’s been good experience learning about the different areas of research. I think I would like to stick to molecular biology.”
Jason Porter, visiting instructor of biology, taught his STEMPREP student Shivani Talwar how to use molecular biology techniques such as DNA extraction and gel electrophoresis while applying it to an environmental microbiology project.
“We should continue with these programs,” said Porter. “The STEMPREP program allows for early development of knowledge starting in seventh grade with an opportunity to further develop each year.”