Alia Ramirez could have spent her summer reading, traveling or just enjoying the fact that she had finished high school. But when she landed a Sir Alexander Fleming Scholarship and the opportunity to do hands-on biomedical research for 8 weeks, she jumped at the chance.
Since June 2, Ramirez has worked at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City with Hal Scofield, M.D., studying genetic mutations that lead to the development of systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly known as lupus.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor, but for the first time ever, I am considering research,” Ramirez said. “This program is definitely more than I expected it to be. I had no idea there would be as much hands-on training or that I would be expected to carry out procedures on my own.”
Ramirez, who hails from Oklahoma City, graduated from Classen School of Advanced Studies in May and will enter the University of Oklahoma as a biochemistry major in the fall. As one of nine Fleming scholars, she will complete a research project, write a scientific paper and present her findings in a formal seminar to OMRF scientific staff. The scholarship also includes a $3000 stipend and housing.
“At first, I believed that the scholarship money would be my greatest reward, but now I know that I’ll walk away from this program with much more than that,” Ramirez said. “This has been such a fun and rewarding experience. I’ve gained confidence, made friends, learned new skills, gained direction and learned that it’s OK to ask a million questions. It’s why we are here.”
The Fleming Scholars program has served as a model for similar programs nationwide since its creation in 1956. More than 450 students have been trained through the program at OMRF. Two of OMRF’s faculty members, Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., and Rodger McEver, M.D., got their start as Fleming Scholars.
OMRF president Stephen Prescott, M.D., sees the program as a two-way benefit. “Granted, these students learn a lot here and are exposed to new concepts, state-of-the-art laboratories and a real-life work environment. But we learn from them, too. They bring enthusiasm and fresh perspectives into OMRF’s labs and keep us as scientists on our toes. And it’s clear through what we see in these young people that the future for research is bright.”
The other 2008 Fleming Scholars are:
Anne Alger, Shawnee, University of Oklahoma
Leah Henry, Oklahoma City, University of Oklahoma
Jack Laurent, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma State University
Sishir Mannava, Edmond, Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics
Sara Moore, Norman, Southeastern Oklahoma State University
Johnnie West, Lawton, Lawton High School
Meaghan Wierzbic, Harrah, Harrah High School
Stephanie Wilburn, Fitzhugh, Oklahoma Baptist University
For more information on the Fleming Scholar Program, visit www.omrf.org/fleming.
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.