Priming The Pump: New Program Provides Minority High School Students With Hands-On Research Experience In The World's Leading Research Labs

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NIH funds new program to support high school students to become biomedical researchers, part of an effort to address racial disparities in research funding

Health Resources in Action Awarded NIH Grant for New Hands-on Biomedical Research Education for High School Students

Health Resources in Action has received a five year, $1.25 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand its LEAH* STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education program for Boston and Cambridge public high school students. Health Resources in Action (HRiA) has partnered with the Boston Private Industry Council and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to provide opportunities for high school students to get a head start towards careers as leaders in biomedical research.

HRiA’s LEAH project (Leaders through Education, Action and Hope) is a STEM, college readiness, and workforce development for Boston public school students. “We are thrilled to receive this NIH grant to support the mission of the LEAH Project. These funds allow the LEAH Project to provide hands-on lab experiences for our high school students, many of whom do not have science labs in schools,” commented Lisa Aslan, LEAH Program Manager.

The new, SEPA -funded, LEAH Knox Scholars program offers two years of support for high school students that include:

  •     Training in biology lab skills through a 4-week lab experience at MIT as rising juniors.
  •     STEM teaching and mentorship for elementary school students through the LEAH program.
  •     Summer research internships throughout Boston’s world-class research labs as rising seniors.
  •     College admissions counseling through LEAH

A 2016 report published authored by Robert Sege, MD, PhD, HRiA’s Chief Medical Officer, reported that only 1% of NIH award recipients are Black scientists, and traced the under-representation all the way back to high school. Based on this insight, the LEAH Knox Scholars program will provide minority students with the solid foundation needed to continue their science education in college and beyond. Sege commented: “The LEAH Knox Scholars program exemplifies HRiA’s commitment to racial equity, and our close ties with area universities and hospitals.”
Knox Scholars is named after William J. Knox, the grandson of slaves, who went on to earn degrees from Harvard and MIT. He contributed to the Manhattan project and had a productive career at Eastman Kodak. “My grandfather [Dr. Knox)] had to sleep in the kitchen at Harvard, because Black men were not allowed in the dorms,” said Dr. Lynn Porter, a Boston pediatrician and advisor to the program.

This summer, HRiA and MIT enrolled 16 high school students in a LEAH pilot. This first cohort and their families were welcomed to the program by Nobel Laureate Phil Sharp, MIT biology department Chair Alan Grossman, Bob Sege and Lynn Porter. Phil Sharp reminded everyone that "a college education is a path to freedom". The students completed the pilot summer lab course, under the direction of Drs. Mandana Sassanfar and Vanessa Cheung at MIT.
*About The LEAH Project at Health Resources in Action
The Leaders through Education Action and Hope (LEAH) Project is a STEM, college readiness, and workforce development program for Boston Public School (BPS) students. Established in 2005 through the Boston Public Schools (BPS), the LEAH Project has a mission to cultivate the power of youth leaders to transform their lives and communities through science, education, and service. LEAH joined HRiA in 2013. HRiA is a national nonprofit public health institute located in Boston, MA with a mission to help people live healthier lives and build healthy communities through prevention, health promotion, policy and research. Additional information is available at http://www.leahproject.org and http://www.hria.org.

Contact:

  • Robert Sege, MD PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Health Resources in Action, 617-292-5063, rsege(at)hria(dot)org
  • Laurie Jo Wallace, Managing Director, Health Resources in Action, 617-279-2223, ljwallace(at)hria(dot)org

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