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With Support from the National Science Foundation, Wistar Launches its First National, College-level Biomedical Research Internship Program

August 29, 2023

Inaugural class learns how to conduct research in immersive summer program

If you take a walk along any one of Wistar’s corridors in the summer, chances are you will see students at the laboratory bench working intently on their research projects. This summer is no exception and includes a select group of college students arriving in Philadelphia for a 12-week Wistar summer intensive research experience.

In the new Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program students are fully immersed in biomedical science experiments under the guidance of a Wistar mentor-scientist leading one of 33+ active labs at the Institute. Students conduct innovative research, applying state-of-the-science techniques to plan and execute experiments and advance their projects. REU is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), organized to encourage STEM student innovators to pursue graduate education and eventual careers that will advance the life sciences into new directions.

Of the inaugural group of 16 students, 12 identified as female and five identified as male. 10 students were funded by the NSF REU grant and six were funded through a PAsmart grant. All NSF REU students were from underrepresented groups and participating from California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

“Every day Wistar invests in pioneering research accomplished by our groundbreaking scientists. That investment includes training our next-gen scientists. These students will become leading scientists in the future and will be our answer and our success. Their discoveries will become tomorrow’s life-saving therapies,” said Dr. Kristy Shuda McGuire.

Since joining Wistar, dean of Biomedical Studies Dr. Shuda McGuire’s singular focus has been to expand education and training programs to impact as many as possible underserved and underrepresented students from the surrounding greater Philadelphia community and now, with the support of the NSF from around the country.

Inaugural REU students Rickelle Wescott and Kiara Garcia Castro shared their experiences in the REU Program where days are filled learning biomedical research lab methods. Nights are for relaxing (in communal housing provided through the Program) and reading science articles, deep dives into more research, and nailing down protocols for the next day’s experiments. Eat, sleep and repeat.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Kiara always aspired to a science job. She’s a rising junior biology major at Temple University. She knew she wanted to do research but did not know where to start.

“Wistar is training friendly and accommodating to everyone. My mentor emphasized it was okay to make mistakes and not feel bad when you mess up because you are learning how to fix your mistakes. He emphasized all researchers have gone through this—you aren’t born knowing how to do research,” said Kiara.

Their diligence in the Program pays off as these next-gen scientists push past their fears about undertaking hugely complex science.

“What’s been the most challenging was to understand and absorb all this scientific information in a short amount of time and then to apply it. I had to understand the purpose of everything: the different solutions, different terms and experiments. That was the difficult part. You just try to be quick on your feet,” said Rickelle.

Rickelle, who is on the pre-med track at Hampton University, is undertaking a variety of research experiments far different from anything she’s done so far in her college science curriculum.

“At Wistar, you feel part of something that is making breakthroughs. You feel like you can be someone who can make a discovery too,” said Rickelle.