For most students, summer is more about beach towels and video games than beakers and microscopes, but for 13 Oklahoma high school and college students, this summer wasn’t like most.
For these gifted students, Friday marked the completion of eight weeks of research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation as Sir Alexander Fleming scholars. Of those selected for the prestigious program, nine hailed from the Oklahoma City metro area.
“This has been a great opportunity to work with amazing scientists who have taught me more than I could have imagined,” said Caroline Say, a graduate of Casady School and now a junior at the University of Wisconsin. “This program helps give young scientists an incredible and vital head start in an extremely competitive field. These few short weeks will stay with me forever.”
As summer scholars, the students took part in hands-on, individual research projects under the direction of senior-level OMRF scientists. These in-depth projects covered a wide range from studying autoimmune diseases like lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome, to learning about the role of proteins in cell division, investigating the connections between obesity and osteoarthritis, and working with mitochondria to understand how muscle mass decreases with age.
In addition to working in the lab, Fleming Scholars attended lectures by OMRF scientists to learn about diverse research projects and science-related career options. They attended social events and spent time as a group outside the lab. At the end of the summer, scholars made formal presentations outlining their individual research results to OMRF’s scientific staff.
Emily Wilkie, a recent Classen School of Advanced Studies graduate who will attend Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., said this program has helped to solidify her goals moving forward.
“My experience has proven that I am definitely fascinated by medical research, and I do plan to pursue my undergraduate research in college,” she said. “I plan to major in biology. From there, I know anything can happen.”
Lindsey Purcell, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major at Oklahoma State University, echoed many of the same sentiments about her experience.
“This is a good stepping stone into learning what research looks like, so learning techniques will help make me more comfortable and more experienced,” said Purcell, a Putnam City North graduate. “OMRF has solidified my desire to be involved in medicine. Before this program, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree.”
OMRF’s Fleming Scholar Program has served as a launching pad for hundreds of Oklahoma students seeking science-based careers. Since 1956, scores of Fleming Scholars have gone on to establish successful medical and research careers, including two OMRF program chairs, Rodger McEver, M.D., and Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., who got their start in the eight-week summer program.
For more information on the Fleming Scholar Program, visit www.omrf.org/fleming.
2016 Fleming Scholars
Nicole Biddinger, Bartlesville, Purdue University
Andrew Blattler, Oklahoma City, Mount St. Mary
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