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Future Health Care Professionals Visit NIEHS

By Eddy Ball
July 2007

Jerrel Yakel
Along with information about Yakel's research, the students were interested in how much research scientists make at NIH. . (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Pierre Bushel
The audience laughed as Bushel described his work as "triple-nerd science," but they were certainly impressed by the salaries Ph.D. bioinformatics specialists can demand. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dario Ramirez
The young people were intrigued by Ramirez' research and inspired by the story of his childhood and youth in Argentina. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Students watching the presentations
Johnson-Thompson was surprised at the students' career choices, all of which involved direct patient care. "This is the first group I've ever had that didn't have at least one researcher in it," she said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Fifty participants in the 2007 Science Enrichment Preparation Program ended their day at NIEHS on June 8 by attending a series of short lectures in Rodbell Auditorium. The young people are students who have declared an interest in careers in medical science and are attending institutions in the University of North Carolina (UNC) system and several private colleges in North Carolina.

The program was coordinated by Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., director of Education and Research Development at NIEHS and utilized the role-modeling talents of several scientists at the Institute, who, like the participants, are members of historically underrepresented groups. The program is one of several Institute initiatives that endeavor to nurture talented young scientists from minority groups and increase the diversity of professionals in the scientific and health care communities.

Following welcome remarks by Johnson-Thompson, the afternoon program began with viewing a UNC-TV "North Carolina Now" segment on the Sister Study.

The program was titled "A Study of the Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors for Breast Cancer" and featured an interview with several participants and Principal Investigator Dale Sandler, Ph.D., of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch.

The rest of the program featured short lectures on their research by some of the Institute's leading young and mid-career scientists:

  • Senior Scientist Jerrel Yakel, Ph.D., described his research into "How the Brain Works: Understanding Neuronal Signaling." Yakel is head of the Ion Channel Physiology Group in the Laboratory of Neurobiology.
  • Staff Scientist Pierre Bushel, Ph.D., introduced the students to "Bioinformatics for a Better Understanding of Biology." Bushel's work merges biology and informatics in the Institute's Biostatistics Branch.
  • Principal Investigator-in-Training Dario Ramirez, Ph.D., explored the topic of "Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: Biological Response to Environmental and Metabolic Stressors." Ramirez is a member of the Free Radical Metabolites Branch in the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry.

The students visited the NIEHS campus through a cooperative agreement with the North Carolina Health Careers Access Program (NC-HCAP) administered through UNC-Chapel Hill. According to the organization's mission statement, "NC-HCAP envisions a society with equitable access to culturally competent health care across all racial and ethnic groups irrespective of geographic location (urban or rural) or socioeconomic status - in short, a society where no health disparities exist."

An Educator's Best Reward

Each year, Johnson-Thompson touches the lives of hundreds of young people all over the country - often without ever learning how much impact she had on their lives. Recently, she learned that three young scientists she mentored, high school students in St. Petersburg, Fla. working on a greenhouse gases project, were among the finalists in the 2007 Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF)(http://istf.ucf.edu/About_Us/)Iwasaspan Exit NIEHS. Johnson-Thompson has worked with students competing in the ISTF for several years, but this is the first group to reach the finalist stage.

The team members ended their message to Johnson-Thompson with the words that mean so much to a teacher. "We just want to let you know that we thank you so much for the helps and contribution you have made throughout our freshman year," wrote Hang, Victoria and Jordan. "Well, we're almost sophomores and we hope that we will have you as our mentor in the future."

Johnson-Thompson also got some very positive feedback on the presentation by Dario Ramirez during the 2007 Science Enrichment Preparation Program. Ramirez received an e-mail from one of the students in attendance, a rising senior majoring in Biochemistry at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The young chemist, who hopes to become a pharmacologist or a research pharmacist working in drug development, was profoundly influenced by the presentation on oxidative stress.

"During the presentation I learned a lot about free radicals, and how unstable and reactive they are in macromolecules found in the body," the young man wrote. "I also gained a lot of interest in your research.... Your background story... made me more eager to work with you and be mentored by someone with that much knowledge, experience and similar career goals."

An Educator's Best Reward

Each year, Johnson-Thompson touches the lives of hundreds of young people all over the country - often without ever learning how much impact she had on their lives. Recently, she learned that three young scientists she mentored, high school students in St. Petersburg, Fla. working on a greenhouse gases project, were among the finalists in the 2007 Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF)(http://istf.ucf.edu/About_Us/) Exit NIEHS. Johnson-Thompson has worked with students competing in the ISTF for several years, but this is the first group to reach the finalist stage.

The team members ended their message to Johnson-Thompson with the words that mean so much to a teacher. "We just want to let you know that we thank you so much for the helps and contribution you have made throughout our freshman year," wrote Hang, Victoria and Jordan. "Well, we're almost sophomores and we hope that we will have you as our mentor in the future."

Johnson-Thompson also got some very positive feedback on the presentation by Dario Ramirez during the 2007 Science Enrichment Preparation Program. Ramirez received an e-mail from one of the students in attendance, a rising senior majoring in Biochemistry at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The young chemist, who hopes to become a pharmacologist or a research pharmacist working in drug development, was profoundly influenced by the presentation on oxidative stress.

"During the presentation I learned a lot about free radicals, and how unstable and reactive they are in macromolecules found in the body," the young man wrote. "I also gained a lot of interest in your research.... Your background story... made me more eager to work with you and be mentored by someone with that much knowledge, experience and similar career goals."



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