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CHORI Kicks Off Summer Research Program

Something special happens at CHORI at the beginning of every summer, with a large group of high school, college and graduate students converging inside the Little Theatre for the Summer Research Program's Orientation Day, the kick-off to 9 weeks of exploratory research with individual mentorship by CHORI principal investigators.

"This year's Orientation was just wonderful," says CHORI scientist Vasanthy Narayanaswami, PhD, who works in the Center for the Prevention of Obesity, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes and co-directs the Summer Research Program with Barbara Staggers, MD. "We had about 150 students applications - around 75 high school and 75 college students - and have about 45 students taking part in the program this year."

Designed to encourage early interest in research and to promote diversity in the sciences, CHORI's Summer Student Research Program matches students with a wide variety of CHRCO's basic and clinical scientists, who help them create a 9-week research project. At the end of the summer, students must present their findings in a one-day symposium, just like any professional researcher would do.

Although both high school and college students have an interest in science and research before starting the program, the goal of the program is to foster that enthusiasm into a greater understanding of research and, hopefully, a commitment to pursuing research in their future careers. As a result, an essential part of the program emphasizes the potential for translational research.

"Sometimes, even I wonder about whether the little molecules I'm playing around with are going to have any impact on the larger picture," says Dr. Narayanaswami. "While I know that it will eventually provide a small piece of the puzzle, a big part of our program is geared toward making sure the students make that connection."

If Ms. Yang is any indication, it seems to be working.

"I was never interested in research because I thought I wouldn’t be able to interact with patients or work closely with communities."

Now, however, Ms. Yang has an entirely different perspective. "I saw that the work done at CHORI was translated and applied to cases and patients at the hospital, including neighboring communities and visa versa," explains Ms. Yang. "I see now that research and patient care go hand in hand."

While there are many training programs throughout the country, CHORI's Summer Research Program receives funding for 6 high school students through the National Heart, Blood and Lung
Institute's funding to receive training in sickle cell research, and 18 students through the National Institute of Health (NIH) for programs that aim to increase diversity in biomedical science, allowing CHORI to provide stipends for nearly half of its participants.

"This is our eighteenth year of the program," says Dr. Narayanaswami. "But this is also our eighteenth year of continuous funding, which makes it even more impressive. Getting continuous funding from NIH speaks volumes for the program."

As Ms. Yang says, "I've always been interested in health and medicine, but I'm now planning on pursuing an MD, while also looking for a way to have an outlet to conduct research."

The Summer Research Program couldn't hope for anything better.

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Monday, May 16, 2011 11:33 PM

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