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Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy

Building bioscientists for tomorrow

September 2010

by Sheila Hotchkin

Several dozen San Antonio high schoolers have traded in three years’ worth of lazy summer vacations for the opportunity to play a role in cutting-edge scientific research at the UT Health Science Center.

The teens are part of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy, which seeks to develop the next generation of biomedical scientists. Voelcker scholars first spend a summer learning basic laboratory techniques. Then, paired with faculty mentors, they head into the labs to participate in actual scientific research. The inaugural Voelcker class - all rising high school juniors this year - hit the labs this summer.

Joshua Shandera
Joshua Shandera, from Central Catholic High School, is in his second year of the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy at the UT Health Science Center. He is pictured here in a lab in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology where he is studying the poxviruses and how they interact with their host’s immune system. His work is contributing to research that one day may help develop better vaccines and therapies to counter bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases. Photo by Lester Rosebrock
The Voelcker Academy is one of a number of pipeline programs at the Health Science Center that seek out talented young people with an interest in health and science careers. Other programs include the annual Science Expo, which attracts more than 1,000 students each fall, and the Med Ed Program for high school and college students from Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

"I believe there is amazing student potential here in our own backyard, and sometimes we lose sight of all the wonderful students that are right here in our community," said Irene Chapa, Ph.D., director of the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach and co-director of the Voelcker Academy. "Having a local presence in the community and opportunities for our local students is very important."

Sophia Piña, Ph.D., assistant dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and co-director of the Voelcker Academy, said Voelcker students are exposed to technology and dedicated research scientists across the Health Science Center’s five schools: "They see firsthand how together we are working to find solutions and answer tough questions through research."

Kael McInnes
Sixteen-year-old Kael McInnes controls an operating room microscope in a neurosurgery lab. He is exploring how brain cells survive on low levels of oxygen and glucose. His research could lead to new treatment options that may someday benefit stroke victims. Photo by Lester Rosebrock


Brian Herman, Ph.D., vice president for research at the Health Science Center, is principal investigator for the Voelcker Academy. David Jones, Ph.D., associate dean for admissions in the School of Medicine, is executive director of the university’s pipeline programs.

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