August 12, 2005 Summer program enriches minority students and MGH researchers
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August 12, 2005

Summer program enriches minority students and MGH researchers

If flipflops and sunburns herald the arrival of summer to most of the world, at an academic medical center the sign of the season might be the influx of new students. Each year, the MGH welcomes scientific hopefuls through a variety of programs for medical students, college students and even high schoolers. Since 1991, talented minority students have vied for 12 spots in the MGH Multicultural Affairs Office's highly regarded Summer Research Trainee Program (SRTP) — to the great benefit of mentors and students alike.

The goal of the SRTP is to provide exceptional college junior and senior students and first- and second-year medical students who are members of underrepresented minority groups with the opportunity to participate in biomedical research in basic science, clinical medicine or health policy. Under the guidance of an MGH researcher, students of Latino, African American, Native American and Hawaiian American heritage spend eight weeks conducting original research that culminates in a final oral presentation to the MGH research community, attending didactic sessions and getting a feel for life in academic medicine. Some SRTP summer interns have gone on to publish their findings in scientific or medical journals and others have taken yearlong leaves of absence from school to continue their work. Left, SRTP intern David McCall

MGH neurologist Mia MacCollin, MD, has been committed to teaching and mentoring young students since her days as a postdoctoral fellow at the MGH in the early 1990s. She's found the students she has mentored through the SRTP to be consistently excellent — one of the reasons she's participated in the program for the past four years. MacCollin, who's particularly interested in helping to bring along the next generation of female scientists, says students have helped her grow as a researcher. "Designing good student projects and seeing them through takes a great deal of time and mental focus," MacCollin says. "Providing structure and guidance to these students has to be a priority, but with the commitment comes real reward."

This summer, MacCollin has had an MIT undergraduate, Andria Balogh, in her lab. Under MacCollin's supervision, Balogh worked to isolate genetic markers in schwannomatosis, a hereditary disorder characterized by the growth of nerve tumors. Other SRTP students have done projects in emergency medicine, general medicine, infectious disease, molecular biology, neurosurgery, orthopædics and pediatric health policy.

When the academic year begins in September, SRTP participants will return to their colleges and medical schools with an invaluable experience and perhaps a clearer picture of their own futures as scientists. For the MGH, the program allows the hospital to provide meaningful support to underrepresented minorities interested in academic medicine. "The MGH has made a strong commitment to increase the number of physicians of color for a variety of important reasons including more accurately reflecting the growing diversity of patient demographics, addressing race-related health disparities and providing a better overall academic experience for everyone," says Elena Olson, administrative director for the Multicultural Affairs Office. "Our goal is, if not to attract some of these students back to train here, then to provide all of them with a positive, enriching experience that opens doors that might otherwise have been shut."

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