Trading beach towels for beakers and video games for Petri dishes might not sound like the ideal way to spend summer to the average student. But for a small group of Oklahoma science students, it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has selected 12 high school and college students for its 61st class of Sir Alexander Fleming Scholars. They will spend eight weeks this summer working in labs on projects ranging from cardiovascular disease to immunology.
The students, chosen from a statewide pool of applicants, will spend the summer at OMRF working side-by-side with senior medical researchers. Each will conduct an in-depth, individual research project during their time at the nonprofit biomedical research facility. At the end of the summer, the students will write scientific papers and present their research results in formal seminars for OMRF’s scientific staff.
“A lot of students coming out of high school or even in college don’t have real-life experience in a laboratory setting, so this gives them the opportunity to see if this is something they really want to do with their lives,” said program coordinator Carlisa Curry. “In addition to allowing them to take a deeper dive into research than they’ve been able to previously, it also gives them invaluable skills they will need in order to work in a lab.”
More than 500 Oklahoma students have gotten their first glimpse of laboratory research under the tutelage of OMRF researchers since the program began in 1956.
“OMRF is a place for learning and growing,” said Curry. “Our scientists really enjoy and benefit from mentoring and showing the younger generation what real science and research are about. Having these young, curious students here reminds scientists of that same time in their own research careers.”
Many Fleming Scholars have since gone on to successful careers in medicine and research. Among them are two of the foundation’s own senior scientists. Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., and Rodger McEver, M.D., who started their research careers as Fleming Scholars.
“This experience trains students to think in new ways, and it is intense by any standard,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “They work hard to get here, they work hard when they’re here, and it can prove to be a career game-changer. It says a lot about people this age who choose to give up an entire summer to work in a lab, but the payback is incredible.”
The 2016 Fleming Scholars are:
Nicole Biddinger, Bartlesville, Purdue University
Zane Dennis, Tulsa, Baylor University
Michael Harmon, Enid, Chisholm High School
Uday Kohli, Edmond, University of Oklahoma
Joey Maher, Yukon, Harding Charter Preparatory High School
Evan McKinnis, Oklahoma City, Classen School of Advanced Studies
Lindsey Purcell, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma State University
Annelise Poss, Tulsa, Oklahoma State University
Caroline Say, Oklahoma City, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dat Truong, Oklahoma City, University of Oklahoma
Emily Wilkie, Oklahoma City, Classen School of Advanced Studies
Ariel Thorson, Oklahoma City, Bethany High School
For more information on the Fleming Scholar Program, visit www.omrf.org/fleming.