Benjamin Pittman could have spent his summer reading, traveling or just enjoying some much-needed free time after his junior year at the United States Naval Academy. But when he landed a Presidential Scholarship and the opportunity to do hands-on biomedical research instead, he jumped at the chance.
“This experience has been much more than I had hoped or expected it to be,” Pittman said. “From the time I started, the scientists and all the lab staff have gone out of their way to help me understand the research, feel comfortable in the lab and have a good time.”
Since June 21, Pittman has worked at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City with Rheal Towner, Ph.D., studying the effects of an experimental drug on aggressive forms of brain tumors.
“All of what I have done has been incredibly interesting and stimulating,” Pittman said. “I’ve been able to work with an amazing team of people from around the world who are experts in their specific areas of research. This is such advanced medical research that actually makes an impact within the medical community. Other than this program, there is no other way I would have been able to be a part of it.”
An Oklahoma City resident, Pittman graduated from Yukon’s Southwest Covenant School in 2005. He will be a senior at the Naval Academy in the fall. As a Presidential Scholar, he will complete a research project, write a scientific paper and present his findings in a formal seminar to OMRF scientific staff. The scholarship also includes a stipend and housing.
Pittman also sees this as good training for his intended career as a physician. “I have one more year in college before I go to medical school, and being in this environment has helped me learn numerous laboratory techniques and procedures, as well as much about the physiological properties of the human body.”
The Presidential scholars work alongside OMRF’s Sir Alexander Fleming Scholars, a program which has served as a model for similar programs nationwide since its creation in 1956. 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 programs 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.”
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.