How did you spend your summer vacation? For a group of college and high school students, they had the opportunity to spend their summer in the labs at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) where they had hands on experience researching HIV prevention tools, reducing rates of infectious diseases, identifying causes of infertility, and examining other women’s health issues.
Since 1995, the summer internship programs at MWRI have involved more than 400 students from more than 100 different institutions. The college program runs eight weeks and the high school program runs four weeks each summer. A student is paired with an MWRI investigator and welcomed into their labs. Amanda Micklo, a student at Ohio State University, participated in the 2017 college program and researched a common drug used to treat sexually transmitted disease. “I loved working in such an innovative and collaborative environment. Each day I was learning something new from not only the specific lab I was assigned to, but from faculty throughout the entire institute,” Amanda said.
The students’ research projects are designed to complement ongoing studies and they perform experiments under close supervision by a mentor. To prepare, they complete courses in Blood-Borne Pathogens, Chemical Hygiene and Lab Safety, and Radiation Safety Training depending upon their area of research. Four to eight weeks isn’t long in the research world, but the students still made an impact. Dana Fiola, another MWRI college intern, commented, “The part of the job I found most satisfying was when I was working on different aspects of my project and saw the results after weeks of collecting samples. I felt extremely accomplished and happy that I knew this data could help the lab in some way.”
As the field of biotechnology grows as an industry, so does the demand for biomedical scientists. The goal of the internship program is to promote interest in biomedical research and ensure that future researchers will make an even greater impact on the health of women and infants. Mellissa Mann, PhD, primary investigator at MWRI and internship mentor, emphasized the importance of fostering future scientists, “It was very rewarding for me to work with such bright young students. This generation’s enthusiasm for basic research, women’s health, and reproductive biology is critical to the future contribution to scientific discovery.”
Students who have participated in the MWRI internship program have moved on to distinguished careers. Responses from feedback surveys show that many students expand their interest in science after their internship. College participants have gone on to present their research at national scientific meetings while others have co-authored manuscripts in peer-reviewed scientific journals. “This has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. This internship solidified my goal of going to medical school with a research background. I now value how important it is for doctors to have strong knowledge of research to be able to give the best care possible to their patients,” Dana said.
This transformative program is supported by the researchers within MWRI and donors who recognize the need to support these impressive scholars. Recently, FedEx made a donation to support the 2018 internship program. Other past sponsors include the medical staff of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Ruth M. Casey, Mr. and Mrs. R. Michael Harter, and Sarah J. McCarthy.