September 7, 2001

C.H.U.M. Summer Research Apprenticeships:

Helping Students Toward Science Careers

Before working this summer at UCSD in the laboratory of Mark Lawson, Ph.D., area high school students Angelica Riestra and Briana Alvarez had no idea what it would be like to perform scientific experiments under an actual scientist.

"I admit, I was just a bit intimidated at the beginning because I didn't really know what to expect," says Angelica, an eleventh-grader at Gompers Secondary School. "But we soon found out that the experience was exciting," adds Briana, a junior at San Diego High School, " and it has definitely helped motivate us further toward a career in science."

Angelica Riestra, a junior at Gompers Secondary School, transfers mouse brain cells into individual pipettes in the laboratory of Mark Lawson at UCSD.

The experience was made possible by the Consortium of High Schools/Undergraduate & Medical Schools (CHUM), a science enrichment program for area students in grades 7 through 12 sponsored jointly by the San Diego Unified School District, the UCSD Undergraduate School, and the UCSD School of Medicine. The program, established in 1992, was developed specifically to increase interest and participation in science among educationally disadvantaged students from academically low-achieving areas of San Diego. CHUM provides a host of year-round activities in science at participating schools.

"Angelica and Briana have participated in the program since middle school and are among CHUM's top-performing students," says Park Trefts, CHUM director. "Their enthusiasm, talent and dedication to science as students really exemplify what this program is all about."

This summer, the two students took advantage of CHUM's Summer Research Apprenticeship which gives students from participating high schools an opportunity to work under scientists at UCSD for eight weeks. The scientists and their staffs serve as mentors for the students, teaching them essential laboratory skills (from how to form an hypothesis to making various chemical solutions and interpreting scientific data) in such areas molecular biology, marine biology, animal physiology, biology and enzymology.

"These skills, when mastered, play an important role in familiarizing students with the scientific process," says Mark Lawson, professor in residence in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UCSD, who mentored Angelica and Briana on laboratory essentials while also providing guidance to them on individual research projects during the program.

"I just love coming to the laboratory," says Briana with a wide smile. "There is so much to learn about conducting research, including the importance of patience, persistence and preparation….I feel I will be that much further ahead in science by the time the school year starts." Angelica adds: "Working in Dr. Lawson's lab has also allowed us to interact with a wide variety of staff members from different cultures and backgrounds, which is also important."

Under the mentorship of Dr. Lawson, Angelica researched the effects of environmental toxin (namely lead) exposure on reproduction, while Briana investigated the effects of herbal dietary supplements on health. Both students have presented science fair projects on related topics at the city and state levels.

Briana Alvarez, an 11th grader at San Diego High School, examines mouse cell lines to be used in experiments in the Reproductive Medicine laboratory at UCSD.

"We also very much appreciate the support our parents and families have given us in our scientific pursuits and career dreams," says Angelica, who would like to pursue a degree in study environmental science. Briana looks forward to majoring in psychology.

CHUM activities are currently centered at seven middle schools and high schools: Lincoln Preparatory, Gompers Secondary, San Diego High, Wilson Middle, Keillor Middle, Memorial Academy and National City Middle School. Some activities are also held at the following elementary schools: Johnson, Kennedy, Perkins and Logan.

In addition to Summer Research Apprenticeships, CHUM provides: university visits; science fair workshop and assistance at school sites; training for college admissions exams; other science research experiences during the summer; medical career seminars, science fair mini camps, teacher training, and other services.

For more information, please call the CHUM office at UCSD, 619-822-1257.

Return to the Frontpage