Johnnie West 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, West has worked at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City with Jose Alberola-Ila, M.D., studying the immune system and how T cells aid in immunity.
“This program has turned out to be a great deal more than I ever expected,” West said. “I have learned so much in such a short time. There is no better way to learn than to be immersed in something, and that’s exactly what the Fleming program does for us as students.”
West graduated from Lawton High School in May and will enter Southern Nazarene University 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.
“I have gotten hands-on laboratory experience at OMRF that can’t be found in a high school classroom,” West said. “This has also taught me how to be patient and given me an appreciation for studying and pushing myself beyond my comfort level. I’ve gained great respect for scientists and for anyone in the research field.”
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
Alia Ramirez, Oklahoma City, Classen School of Advanced Studies
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.