By Adam Kemp
Staff writer [email protected]
Emma Turner thought about taking a summer off.
Thoughts of laying by the pool, road trips and just enjoying being lazy for three months all sounded like fine ways to spend her first semester home from college.
But instead, Turner, along with more than a dozen other Oklahoma college students, are working to get a jump on their future.
“Getting hands-on experience is so crucial,” said Turner, 19. “It really helps to propel you forward and it helps you understand what you are studying in school so much better.”
Turner is one of thousands of Oklahoma college students working in an academic program or internship this summer.
As a Fleming Scholar at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Turner is getting first-hand experience learning how diseases are treated and medicines are made.
“I think it is probably the best thing you can do to prepare for my career,” she said.
The Fleming Scholar Program at OMRF is considered to be one of the most elite in the state.
The eight-week program is named for Sir Alexander Fleming, the famed British scientist, who discovered penicillin. In 1949, Fleming came to Oklahoma City to formally dedicate the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s first building.
The scholar program was founded in 1956 as a way to give Oklahoma’s high school and college students hands-on biomedical research experience.
The program starts from a pool of dozens of applicants and narrows to around 25. Those finalists are then whittled down even further until what’s left is the best and brightest, said Bob Axtell, who runs the lab researching treatments for multiple sclerosis.
“It’s a great opportunity for Oklahoma kids,” Axtell said. “They can really see the nuts and bolts of the research side of medicine and decide for themselves if this is something they want to do in the future.
“It gives them a perspective of how medicine is done from the ground up.”
MacKenzie Toliver, 18, will be a freshman next year at Vanderbilt University, and said she was thrilled to spend the summer working with lab mice and getting hands-on experience in a field she wants to enter one day.
“It’s been eye-opening,” Toliver said. “Coming here I’m seeing that there are a ton of different avenues and pathways to medicine.
“It’s not just being a doctor.”
Toliver said Vanderbilt, which has one of top medical schools in the country, hosts a research fair at the beginning of each school year asking students to present research they’ve done in the medical field.
Because of her time at OMRF, Toliver said she feels she has an experience worth sharing.
“Most freshman don’t participate,” Toliver said. “I could potentially get into a research lab my first year. That would be insane.”
The students aren’t the only ones seeing the benefits.
Axtell said the fresh eyes of some of the scholars at OMRF pushes doctors and lab technicians to take another look at preconceived notions.
“They are able to really provide a fresh insight,” Axtell said. “They are growing but I’m also learning from their experiences.”