The full immersion science internship is comprised of 3 separate but related programs that serve high school students in grades 10-12. Students in Project SEED (Summer Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged) receive stipend support from the American Chemical Society; Students in the Future Scientist Program receive stipend support from the IU Simon Cancer Center, and students in Project STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) receive stipend support from Indiana CTSI collaborators or participate as unpaid volunteers. Students do their research in separate labs and come together once or twice a week for network events, luncheon speakers, or skills training provided by the Indiana CTSI team, led by Elmer Sanders.
Sanders is the director of K-12 education outreach, a recent full-time addition to the Indiana CTSI team. For the last 15 years, Sanders managed the Project SEED/STEM/FSP programs while also serving as a high school science teacher. He was most recently at Southport High School in Perry Township and previously spent five years teaching at Arsenal Technical High School in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. He says his favorite part of the summer program is working with all the people on campus.
“We have really excellent mentors who volunteer their time to train the students,” said Sanders. “They are not just spectators. They are part of the team. It speaks well of our mentors and their ability to really integrate the students into their research team. Just days into the program, they’re attending journal clubs and presenting research, just like the rest of the team.”Sanders leads a team of teachers and scientists to screen candidates and make sure students and their families understand the great responsibility and opportunity the programs offer. Jim McAteer, PhD, and Matt Allen, PhD, from IU School of Medicine and Paul Ardayfio, PhD, from Eli Lilly and Company all recruit the mentors who work with students during their 8-week summer research internship program.
“Achievement is the ultimate self-esteem booster,” said Sanders. “When students begin to feel like they’re achieving something, it really gives them the confidence to pick up and go far. It’s satisfying to see the students five and six years later, getting into MD and PhD programs of their choice.”
During the summer of 2019, 40 students took part in the SEED program, 8 were in the Future Scientists program and 67 were in the STEM program, for a combined total of 115 students. Twenty of those students interned with scientists at Eli Lilly, including Avon High School senior Jui Desai.
“Over the summer, I interned at Eli Lilly in the diabetic complications department,” said Desai. “I had a fantastic time, both at Lilly with my mentor’s lab group and at IUPUI at our STEM meetings. It was interesting to see the correlation and implementation of both computational informatics and textbook biology.”
Other students who were part of the summer internship program say they learned valuable skills, such as collaboration and data analysis.
“Making data digestible is really difficult. Communications is really difficult, especially in this highly technical field,” said Rahil Thanawala, who just graduated from Fishers High School, “Sharing data with your constituents and people in your community is important because you’re doing your science for them and it’s important to share things.”
Sanders says he’s happy to devote more of his efforts to the various K-12 programming within Indiana CTSI.
“I’m hoping to make a good thing even better,” said Sanders. “I’m looking forward to having the time available to spend with the faculty and helping them on their specific goals and objectives for K-12 educational outreach.”