Alicia Gonzales

Friday, Oct. 21, 2016

STEM internships give research opportunities to teens

Phoenix – The Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Helios Education Foundation teamed up 10 years ago to create internships for high school students as young as 16 in human genome research.

“Seeing a patient on a daily basis and sitting down with them… talking with them about their disease… is really kind of ultimately what keeps me going on a daily basis,” said Dr. Joshua Niska.

Niska is now working at Mayo Clinic as a resident physician in radiation oncology. He said he got his start from his time as an intern at the Helios Scholars at TGen program back in 2008.

“The program at TGen was really my first exposure to working in a lab, to cancer research, to the medical sciences in general,” said Niska.

Dr. Joshua Niska revisits his old work station from his time as an intern in the Helios Scholars at TGen program. (Photo by Alicia Gonzales/Cronkite News)

Dr. Joshua Niska revisits his old work station from his time as an intern in the Helios Scholars at TGen program. (Photo by Alicia Gonzales/Cronkite News)

Students as young as 16 can apply for the internship, which is when Niska started.

The program just celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, giving over 400 students paid research internships over the last 10 years.

Translational Genomics Research Institute President and Research Director Dr. Jeffrey Trent directly supervises some of the students working in the lab.

“We see students that already have a lot of lab experience, and we have some that have none,” said Trent.

Students working on genetics research in Dr. Jeffrey Trent's lab at TGen. (Photo by Alicia Gonzales/Cronkite News)

Students working on genetics research in Dr. Jeffrey Trent’s lab at TGen. (Photo by Alicia Gonzales/Cronkite News)

The Helios Education Foundation is funding the program to help students find their career path.

Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna said a better educated workforce will drive a stronger economy here in Arizona.

“I mean, there’s research already that says 68 percent of every future job by 2020 will require some type of post-secondary education,” said Luna. “A higher level of academic achievement is critically important for us to be able to provide the opportunities for our students to be able to compete in a much more global economy, for the types of jobs that they’re really going to want to have, and the types of jobs and the type of economy that we’re going to want for the state of Arizona.”

Around 500 students apply for the Helios Scholars at TGen internship each summer, but they can only take about 45 at a time.

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