Scholars program gives high-school students a taste of the medical field

For Donald Woodson, taking part in the Ferring Scholars Program at the School of Medicine in June was “the perfect opportunity.”

Woodson, a rising sophomore at Metro High School, was one of 25 high-school students taking part in the three-year summer program for those interested in careers in health care or biomedical research. Students from four area high schools — Cardinal Ritter, Rosati-Kain, Metro and St. Louis University High — are selected for the program by their science teachers or principals to begin the program after their freshman year.

Photo by Robert Boston

Lizzie Sextro of Rosati-Kain High School and David Ayeke of St. Louis University High School work in the lab during the Ferring Scholars Program.

Over a two-week period, the students participated in a lab course in which they worked with DNA and E. coli bacteria, took tours of the medical center and attended information sessions about careers given by medical and graduate students and faculty.

Michael R. DeBaun, M.D., the Ferring Family Chair in Pediatric Cancer and Related Disorders and professor of pediatrics, of biostatistics and of neurology, heads the program. Joyce Linn is program coordinator. The program is supported by John and Allison Ferring and the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences.

DeBaun said the Ferring Scholar Program was established to provide a unique mentoring opportunity for bright and highly motivated students who attend high schools in close proximity to the medical campus.

“We are honored that John and Alison Ferring have made a decision to invest in the next generation of physician scientists,” DeBaun said. “As the area high schools serve a diverse student body, our students are likewise diverse, with approximately 50 percent of the participants being young women and approximately 50 percent being of African descent. I look forward to the day that one of our graduates will become my colleague here at the medical center.”

Although Woodson had worked in a lab before, he said the Ferring Scholars Program gave him more hands-on experience performing experiments.

“Being in this program really solidified my interest in medicine,” Woodson said. “All of the doctors who talked to us were so excited about their jobs — you could see the fire in their eyes when they talked about what they do.”

Woodson said his favorite speaker was Alan L. Schwartz, Ph.D., M.D., the Harriet B. Spoehrer Professor and head of the Department of Pediatrics.

“When he talked about what he does, it made me really excited about going into the medical field,” he said.

Laura Cline, a rising sophomore at Rosati-Kain High School, said she found rapport with Jose Pineda, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and of neurology and director of the Pediatric Neurocritical Care Program.

“I could picture myself in that type of job working with children and the brain,” she said.

About half of the students in this summer’s program will be selected to continue. Those chosen will spend next summer working in a lab on campus. At the end of the summer, they will present their research at a poster session.

In the final summer, the students spend at least six weeks working in the lab on a project that they will present at the end of the summer to peers and mentors. In addition, students will work with their mentors to prepare their college admission materials. They are also encouraged to submit their research findings to regional or national scientific meetings or competitions.

Ten students completed the program in 2006, and 15 students completed the program in 2008.