First KEYS interns describe the impact of the summer of 2007
In 2007, Marti Lindsey had an idea.
“I thought,” says Lindsey, “why don’t we bring high-school students into UA labs and teach them research? Let’s show them they can do it. Let’s inspire the next generation to be passionate about science.”
Lindsey, director of community outreach and education for COP’s Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, discussed the idea with the UA BIO5 Institute, which agreed to collaborate on the venture. Thus, the Keep Engaging Youth in Science (KEYS) program was born.
KEYS has been held every summer since 2007. The program trains high-school students in scientific research methods and communication skills and provides them work in real UA science labs under the tutelage of world-class principal investigators and graduate students. The program is now jointly coordinated by Marti Lindsey of the College of Pharmacy and Heather Ingram from the BIO5 Institute.
The first KEYS cohort of interns, high-school students from the Tucson area, numbered only nine. (In contrast, the 2012 KEYS program admitted 36 students and turned many more away.)
In June 2012, seven of the nine interns in the original KEYS program reunited at the college to reminisce and share experiences. They have come quite a way since the 2007 summer they spent in UA labs. All were accepted into university programs. Three have graduated from UA with undergraduate degrees. Three plan to apply to medical school. All say KEYS inspired them to pursue science.
The interns who returned to the College of Pharmacy for the reunion were: Shiana Ferng, Tiffany Lee, Alexander Nguyen, Daniel Sotelo, Kim Tham and Andrew Vo. A seventh intern, Mon-Nin Fung, participated via computer from her work location in Idaho.
The profiles below describe the 2007 KEYS interns who returned for the reunion.
Looking back on her KEYS experience, Kim Tham echoes her fellow interns in describing her experience five years earlier.
“KEYS was one of the richest experiences I’ve had,” she says. “It expanded my horizons so much. Since then, I have worked in Dr. [Serrine] Lau’s proteomics lab and I’ve gotten into an undergrad biology research program. I’ve been there for four years. I’ve published, gone to national conferences and given two poster presentations.”
After KEYS, Daniel Sotelo continued researching and worked for Marti Lindsey for two years. One of his accomplishments during that time was developing the first recruitment program for KEYS. Since his own KEYS internship, Sotelo has graduated from the UA with a degree in nutrition. He is now an emergency medical technician.
“KEYS let me work in a research lab,” he says. “It helped me get a job at the UA Cancer Center and win an award. I got to travel. I’ve been to Washington D.C., Orlando, Chicago and San Francisco. With KEYS, everyone has the chance to be a high achiever. The standards are set high.”
Shiana Ferng is working in her fourth lab at the UA. She will be a senior in the fall of 2012, with plans of becoming a dual MD/PhD degree candidate.
“I loved KEYS so much,” she says. “I became a member of the KEYS crew [which helps KEYS interns in subsequent years], which gave me a ton of mentorship experience, especially as a high-school student. Because of KEYS, I got to mentor older students during my second year [in college]. I got the opportunity to help other people grow. We were given support. Having people believe in you when you’re so young makes such a difference. Also, KEYS changed the culture at the UA. Professors learned what high-school students could do. It’s easy [for people] to forget how smart you can be when you’re so little.”
After KEYS, Alexander Nguyen got a certificate in phlebotomy and worked in the emergency room of Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson. He is now working at UA Medical Center – Diamond Children’s and will be working in the UA department of emergency medicine soon. He has started his education at the UA and is already teaching others in biology.
“KEYS was a huge opportunity,” says Nguyen. “It’s all up to the students. Opportunities aren’t going to land at your feet. Students have to come toward it, go for it.”
Tiffany Lee worked in Terrence Monks’ lab during her KEYS experience.
“We were studying the effects of [the street drug] ‘ecstasy’ on rats,” she says. “Because of that experience, I applied to pharmacy school. I was accepted and just finished my second year. I’m doing a senior project early. The project is at University of Arizona Medical Center. I’m studying medicine reconciliation.”
“I had wanted to be a pharmacist like my dad,” says Mon-Nin Fung, who attended the reunion via computer, “but through KEYS, I got interested in microbiology. I’m really glad I got the chance to learn about something I had never thought about. I volunteered with KEYS for four years after I was an intern. I graduated from the UA in 2011 with a BS in microbiology. When I started my undergraduate degree, I realized we learned in KEYS what people in 400-level classes were learning. Now I’m working at a hospital [in Idaho] as a clinical lab assistant. Idaho doesn’t have the kind of opportunity we had with KEYS. I see brilliant students coming through the hospital. I tell them, ‘You could teach the world’ – but they don’t have the kind of opportunity we had.”
During KEYS, Andrew Vo worked in A. Jay Gandolfi’s lab. He is now volunteering in the UA Medical Center pharmacy and studying for school. He started at the College of Pharmacy in August 2012. “After KEYS,” says Vo, “I felt bored in college classes because KEYS had already taught me how to do things. KEYS is why I decided to pursue a career in health care. We cared about each other in KEYS. I made life-long friendships. That’s what I took from KEYS.”