A new generation of medical workers and scientific researchers are being groomed at one of the largest academic medical centers in Texas.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is expanding efforts to not only attract  undergraduates interested in bio-medical studies, but also to high school and middle school students through several hands-on programs.

The programs shed light on the work being done in the laboratory and clinic setting, and in some cases, allow younger pupils to learn alongside researchers and doctors, giving them experience normally only available to graduate and post-doctoral students.

“I think the idea for high school students is if you get in and get some exposure and experience early on, it may motivate you,” said Scott Weaver, director of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, who serves as a high school student mentor. “Once you’ve seen how science is really done, I think for many people, it motivates you to go back to the classroom and make sure you understand everything because now you see why it’s important. And if you get exposed to experimental research, and you like it, as a college student, you can look for opportunities to continue.”

The UTMB High School Biomedical Research Program, overseen by director Kathy Tiernan of the Center for Education Outreach, invites some of the brightest high school science and math students from across the region to conduct research in line with their interests. Only 10 students are selected from more than 100 applicants. They are selected based on grades in science and math honors classes, standardized test scores, participation in extracurricular activities such as science fairs, and recommendations from science and math teachers and tutors.

Throughout the eight-week summer program, students participate in weekly seminars and tours that cover a wide variety of studies. A 10-week program is also offered to undergraduates from other universities seeking to gain insight on how biomedical research works.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned here is science is all about collaboration,” said two-time summer program student Kevin Le of Jersey Village High School in Houston. “That’s completely different than high school in which competition is everything. In real science, it’s about how you can help other people with your data.”

During each school year, approximately 10 to 12 students from Galveston’s Ball High are chosen to be a part of the UTMB Scientific Research and Design: Bench Tutorials Program, which pairs students with mentors to work on experiments and research projects. Students are required to make two symposium presentations about their research to UTMB faculty and staff.

“My mentor taught me everything I needed to know in a four-year college program,” said Ellie Cherryhomes, who graduated from Galveston’s Ball High in June. “I didn’t have a background in science, my parents didn’t have a background in science. This program really pointed me in the direction of doing science as a career.”

Some programs highlight UTMB scientific research work to those as young as middle school age. SCI Café, also known as Where Science and Communities Interact, is a series of public discussions by the Center in Environmental Toxicology and Institute for Translational Sciences at UTMB. SCI Café proved so popular at its original location in downtown Galveston, it grew to host a presentation this spring at the Austin Middle School Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Magnet about the chikun chikungunya virus.

Austin students often go onto, where they will have an opportunity to further their studies in science through both the UTMB High School Biomedical Research Program and the Bench Tutorials Programs at Ball High in Galveston.

“I was able to dip my toes into research at such a young age, it allowed me start thinking about it more,” said Hannah Hall, a pre-med student at Trinity University in San Antonio studying neuroscience, a former Bench program participant and current summer intern for Jeff Temple, a clinical psychologist. “Without UTMB as a resource, I may not be pursuing it as much as I am right now.”

2015 High School Biomedical Research Program Faculty Mentors and High School Interns

Rong Fang, pathology – Rida Sarwar, 10th grade, Pearland High School, Pearland

Celeste Finnerty, department of surgery – Stephanie Reyes, 11th grade, Clear Springs High, League City and Terome Reynolds, 11th grade, Ball High School, Galveston

Junji Iwahara, biochemistry and molecular biology, Sealy Center for Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics -  Rolando Marquez, 10th grade, Sam Rayburn High School, Sugarland

Jere McBride, pathology; microbiology and immunology; Sealy Center for Vaccine Development – Ryan Vu, 10th grade, Clear Lake High School, Houston

Joan Nichols, internal medicine-Infectious Disease, Galveston National Laboratory – Daniil Weaver, Ball High, Galveston

Tracy Toliver-Kinsky, anesthesiology; biochemistry and molecular biology – Candice Tat, 11th grade, Friendswood High School, Friendswood

Gracie Vargas, neuroscience and cell biology; Center for Biomedical Engineering – Poojaba Zala, 12th grade, Ball High

Yogesh Wairkar, neurology and neuroscience graduate program – Serdjan Rolovic, 10th Grade, Dulles High School, Sugarland

Scott Weaver, microbiology and immunology - Kevin Le, 12th Grade, Jersey Village High School, Houston

Click here for a photo of Scott Weaver with Kevin Le.

Click here for a photo of Yareli Perez in the lab with her mentor, Elizabeth Jaworski.