Student scientists contribute to OMRF mission
By Eriech Tapia
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Peering into microscopes and venturing into the unknown, students from across the nation are wrapping up a summer of new discoveries at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Thirteen high school and college students were chosen for the Fleming Scholar Program, which allowed them eight weeks of hands-on biomedical research.
“Here at the program, they get to dissect, work in a lab, learn the terminology and really focus on the science,” said Carlisa Curry, coordinator of the program.
“They see the big picture, which is something that really inspires me.”
Students were required to present their research to scientists with the foundation and others from OU Medical, after weeks of researching topics with senior-level scientists.
With science programs being cut back across the nation, the Fleming Scholar program has avoided cuts, and Curry said she does not like what is happening in high schools.
“With funding cuts, they do not get the same science opportunities.”
Curry said they are able to provide the best opportunity in the sciences due to their unique position.
“There are about 12 major donors that give to the Fleming Scholar Program,” she said.
The program is supported by donors and endowment, which allows students to be paid and receive breakfast as a part of the program, with each intern costing around $7,000.
“They treat us like we are researchers and not like kids straight out of high school. I believe I have grown a lot as a scientist,” said Emily Wilkie, 18.
Textbook science experiments were not a part of the program, with students researching cell division, multiple sclerosis and other diseases, Curry said.
Students often arrived early and stayed late in an effort to get the most they could from the program.
“The first couple of weeks, I was really stressed out,” said Wilkie, who studied cells during her internship.
“Cells are everything and help everything live.”
She and others in the group said small steps are needed to achieve their larger goals, and the program has taught them to work together.
“They are really getting their hands dirty,” said Bob Axtell, assistant member at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“I have had a couple of students so far, two students, and they have actually produced important data for my projects,” he said.
Recently Axtell has been studying multiple sclerosis and has had help from his intern, Uday Kohli, of Edmond.
“We are wanting to understand the disease. It is a disease with no cure yet and the reason people get it is unknown, as well,” said Axtell, who has had two interns so far and said the results are starting to show.
“It shows that the mentorship is good and also for the kids … I really like this program,” he said.
Students can apply for the program if they are a senior in high school or a freshman, sophomore or junior in college.
The program accepts about a dozen students every year from about 100 applicants.
“They are getting opportunities that a lot of students do not usually have,” Curry said.
The Fleming Scholar program had its 60th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1956 and named for the British scientist who discovered penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming.
He dedicated the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation at its opening in 1949.