Medical research is often an exercise in patience, taking months, even years, to yield results.
But for the 2021 class of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s Fleming Scholar Program, the waiting game started before even stepping foot in the lab.
Founded in 1956 and named for Sir Alexander Fleming, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered penicillin and in 1949 dedicated OMRF’s first building, the program offers Oklahoma high school and college students a summer packed with hands-on biomedical research.
The 12 students who made up OMRF’s 65th class of Fleming Scholars were set to start work in June 2020. But Covid-19 put the brakes on the program.
“After finding we could safely operate our labs even at the height of the pandemic, we knew we needed to invite our summer scholars back to campus,” said OMRF Vice President of Human Resources Courtney Greenwood. “Students missed out on a lot in 2020. We were determined to give these Fleming Scholars a second chance at this rare experience.”
And now, after wrapping up eight weeks of research alongside OMRF scientists, the scholars agreed the experience was worth the wait.
Stillwater’s Cindy Li, a neuroscience major at the University of Pennsylvania, spent the summer in the lab of OMRF scientist David Forsthoefel, Ph.D., studying tissue regeneration. Li said that while the initial delay was disappointing, it might have benefitted the scholars in the long run.
“This past year strengthened my base knowledge in science, which led me to pick up the technical processes and concepts more quickly,” she said. “Although the postponement was sudden, I was able to get much more out of this experience than I would have previously.”
Edmond’s Estella Seagraves is studying cellular and molecular biology at Oklahoma City University. She worked alongside OMRF scientists Xiao-Hong Sun, Ph.D., and Ashley Hoover, Ph.D., to investigate antiviral immunity. Sun’s lab is investigating how to improve vaccines to better protect from respiratory viral infections.
“This program gives students the opportunity to truly learn how research works,” said Seagraves. “I know it made a significant impact on me as a person and a scientist.”
More than 600 Oklahoma students have participated in the program since its inception. Two current OMRF vice presidents, Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., and Rodger McEver, M.D., started their research careers as Fleming Scholars.
“This program has helped shape the future of many of our state’s best and brightest young scientific minds,” said OMRF’s Greenwood. “We were so happy to be able to safely welcome these curious minds to our labs.”
Applications for the 2022 Fleming School Program will open in November 2021. For more information on the program, visit www.omrf.org/fleming.