West Point cadet Aba Quainoo arrived at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation with modest expectations about her summer internship. She left astonished at the opportunities that came her way.
“I figured I would just be watching and scribing, not really getting hands-on work,” said Quainoo, who plans to attend medical school. “But then I get here, and they explain what the lab is doing, let me watch for a bit, and then I’m doing it myself. OMRF exposed me to things I was not expecting at this stage of my career.”
Quainoo interned through the Oklahoma City biomedical foundation’s John H. Saxon Service Academy Summer Research Program. Open to any military academy student, the program compresses an intensive summer internship into three to four weeks. John Saxon III, M.D., a Muskogee physician and OMRF board member since 2000, established the program to honor his father, a West Point graduate who taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a career Air Force pilot.
“You’re not going to find any more dynamic people than the cadets in our service academies,” Saxon said. “My father told me that being a West Point graduate opened doors for him from then on, and I tell these students the same holds true about OMRF. Even if you’re here for a short time, having that after your name means something.”
Quainoo studied in the lab of OMRF scientist Sathish Srinivasan, Ph.D., who recently discovered that heart valves become enlarged in the absence of a particular biological protein. The cadet’s experiments aimed to determine whether a high-fat diet would exacerbate the negative effects.
When Srinivasan learned of Quainoo’s dream of becoming a pediatric surgeon, he contacted Harold Burkhart, M.D., a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and frequent research collaborator of Srinivasan’s at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Thereafter, when Quainoo wasn’t in her OMRF lab, she was shadowing Burkhart.
The sophomore life science major said her OMRF experience instilled confidence in her independence and leadership ability. Srinivasan said she displayed motivation and a strong work ethic.
“This was my first internship. When I came in, I was very intimidated,” said Quainoo. “But this program showed me I was able to do so much more than I thought I could.”