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Preparing the next generation for bioscience careers

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 · Volume: XLVII · Issue: 13

Josh Shandera (left) was mentored by Yan Xiang, Ph.D., (right) associate professor of microbiology and immunology as a Voelcker Scholar.
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Josh Shandera (left) was mentored by Yan Xiang, Ph.D., (right) associate professor of microbiology and immunology as a Voelcker Scholar.clear graphic

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Contact: Will Sansom, 210-567-2579

SAN ANTONIO (July 2, 2014) — Nearly 500 high school and college students are studying science and conducting research at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio this summer as part of an educational “pipeline” to bioscience careers.

Voelcker scholars

For the sixth consecutive summer since 2009, the Health Science Center is hosting the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy, which provides area high school students, called Voelcker Scholars, a unique research experience. The program lasts for three years, with each summer progressively becoming more challenging.

Voelcker Scholar alumni, now college students, have returned to mentor their younger peers and continue to conduct research in laboratories, potentially leading to co-authorship on publications. Three cohorts of Voelcker Scholars are on campus this summer, said Irene Chapa, Ph.D., director of the Office of Science Recruitment and Outreach at the Health Science Center. The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund makes the academy possible.

Bringing new cancer discoveries to the patients

At the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC), part of the Health Science Center and one of the four National Cancer Institute Cancer Centers in Texas, a program starting this summer is designed to bolster the cancer research workforce in years to come.

“It is exciting to see new opportunities develop each year, allowing more and more students to discern if biomedical career fields are in their future,” Dr. Chapa said. “The Institute for Drug Development at the CTRC is hosting this new program introducing college students to translational research in oncology.” Rachel Ortiz-Wong of the CTRC is the project coordinator.

Many more research opportunities

Other summer activities involving Health Science Center outreach include:
  • Pathways into Medicine, a collaborative program with St. Mary’s University, which reaches economically disadvantaged, academically gifted students;

  • A Career Explorations Camp for students from the Fox Tech High School Health Professions Magnet and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy;

  • Junior volunteers with the University Health System are gaining hands-on experience with techniques such as suturing in Health Science Center labs;

  • Students from the Northside Independent School District Research Program are learning research fundamentals at the Health Science Center;

  • Thirty students are participating in a one-week summer program called BEAT – the Biomedical Excellence and Academic Training program;

  • The School of Dentistry Hispanic Center of Excellence is helping students explore careers in dentistry and prepare for the Dental Admission Test and competitive application into dental programs;

  • College students are pursuing research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and the Physiology Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), which are advanced programs coordinated, respectively, by the Health Science Center’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Department of Physiology;

  • The Summer Undergraduate Research Program, funded by a CPRIT Training Grant, brings 10 bright and highly motivated students from across the country to work in the labs of Health Science Center researchers on the Long, Greehey and Texas Research Park campuses. The program lasts for eight to 10 weeks.

  • College students are participating in a Summer Pre-Medical Academy sponsored by the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) and the Facilitated Admissions for South Texas Scholars (FASTS) program. JAMP is a partnership of all nine Texas medical schools and the state’s undergraduate institutions to support medical school applicants. The FASTS program allows students with academic excellence and a demonstrated interest in medicine to receive early acceptance to the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center.
Health Professions Summit

Recently, an estimated 300 high school students from more than 30 schools in the Rio Grande Valley participated in the Health Professions Summit at the Weslaco Independent School District Performing Arts Center. Students gained hands-on experiences with faculty and students from the School of Health Professions, School of Dentistry, School of Nursing and School of Medicine.

Piquing students' interest in science careers

Ally Bocanegra and Sarahi Villarreal, students at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, dissect a sheep’s heart during last fall’s Health Professions Fair & Science Expo.
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Ally Bocanegra and Sarahi Villarreal, students at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, dissect a sheep’s heart during last fall’s Health Professions Fair & Science Expo. clear graphic


“These are all pipeline programs,” Dr. Chapa said. “These interactions increase students’ awareness, confidence and abilities. They also increase student understanding of scientific concepts and help ensure that the pipeline into the health professions remains filled with diverse, competent and professional young adults who will be the health care professionals and research scientists of tomorrow.”

Year-round, the Office of Science Outreach and Recruitment interacts with 12,000 to 14,000 San Antonio and South Texas students, welcoming several high school and collegiate groups on a weekly basis and 1,500 every November at the annual Health Professions Fair & Science Expo, Dr. Chapa said.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving National Institutes of Health funding. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced more than 29,000 graduates. The $765.2 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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