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Summer Research Program Immerses D.C. Youth in Sciences

Georgetown-Hughes Research Scholars

Participants in the Georgetown-Hughes Research Scholars Program recently took a field trip to the Washington National Cathedral.

July 28, 2011 – More than 30 eighth- and ninth-graders from Washington, D.C. schools are spending the summer on campus learning biomedical research as part of a new program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Training Future Scientists

The six-week Precollege Outreach Program, which began June 27 on Georgetown’s campus, allows middle-school students from underrepresented areas in the sciences the opportunity to take classes in math, English, and the sciences – environmental, health, medical and anatomy and physiology.

“The mission of the Hughes Institute is to train future science thinkers, and it doesn’t have to be bench scientists … just people thinking about science from different perspectives,” explains Maria Donoghue, associate director of the HHMI-funded university programs – which also includes the Georgetown-Hughes Research Scholar program for undergraduates.

The students will return to campus each summer for the next four years for classes and field trips to scientific centers such as Janelia Farm Research Campus, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Children’s Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They will spend their third and fourth summers living on campus and working in a research laboratory.

New Scholars Added to the Fold

Georgetown’s HHMI program, whose funding was just renewed for the next four years, is one of the few programs funded by the institute that has been renewed continuously since 1993. Joseph Neale, who is the program’s director and the Paduano Distinguished Professor of Biology, first initiated the program with the Georgetown-Hughes Research Scholars program.

This summer marks the first time students from Montgomery College in Germantown, Md., join the research scholars program. The partnership with the Maryland community college is one part of a $1.6 million grant that Georgetown’s biology department received from HHMI last year.

The 30 undergraduates – 22 from Georgetown and eight from Montgomery College – are working in research laboratories and focusing on topics such as ecosystem diversity, neuroscience, virology, development, immunology and parasites. They will present symposia of their findings at the end of the summer.

“In my view, as a professor, what makes the difference between a student who has a good college experience and a great college experience is how much they get intimate interactions with faculty,” says Donoghue. “This program … forces the students to work every day with a faculty member. Those relationships will take those students into great fellowships [and] into great graduate schools.”

Creating a Sense of Community

In addition to research, the Georgetown undergraduates serve as mentors within the HHMI community at Georgetown, guiding the community college students in laboratory work.

Biology major Tim Hark (C’14) says Georgetown’s HHMI programs create a sense of community he didn’t expect.

“Dr. Donoghue and Dr. Neale have succeeded in creating a tight-knit community where all the scholars can not only learn from the lab professors, but also learn from each other outside of lab,” he says.

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