July 1, 2008

Internship Program Gives Students Valuable Experience

By David Pittman, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas

Jun. 29--It's likely most of Lyahn Hwang's friends at Amarillo High School are flipping burgers or lounging by the pool this summer.

Hwang, 16, has taken a different tack.

She will spend the summer before her senior year studying how to treat a difficult form of staph infection as part of a research internship.

Hwang and five others are a part of this year's crop for the Summer Student Research Internship Program at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo.

The students, four recent high school graduates, one Texas Tech undergraduate and one rising high school senior, will spend eight weeks shadowing and working with Texas Tech physicians and researchers.

"This program actually gives the chance to shadow physicians and find out what they're doing," said Marjorie Jenkins, director of the summer program and executive director of the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women's Health.

Hwang said she's gaining valuable experience.

"It's well worth it," she said.

Hwang is working with Tom Hale to determine the colonization rate of MRSA in Amarillo infants up to four months old.

MRSA -- or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus for short -- colonizes or lives in up to 40 percent of the general public's noses.

"We honestly in medicine don't know what that means," said Hale, a Tech professor of pediatrics.

Hwang's work will help physicians understand and treat the drug- resistant staph infection.

Lara Gadry, a 2008 San Jacinto Christian Academy graduate, will study the effects of prune belly baby syndrome. The syndrome is caused by the lack of development of abdominal muscles, making the skin on a baby's belly wrinkle like a prune.

Tech undergrad Zachary Mills, set to start his junior year this fall, is researching how certain osteoporosis drugs affect bone deterioration in the jaw.

"You'll gain experience that you'll never get as a lifeguard or working at McDonald's," said James Stoll, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

Stoll's intern, 2008 Randall High grad Daniel Acevedo, is studying how certain proteins allow drugs and nutrients to travel in and out of cells in the body. Other scientists can use the information to help understand the disease process and design better drugs.

The summer provides all six students real-world experience in science and medicine that is impossible to gain while sitting in a classroom.

"I don't know how else to explain it other than it's an amazing experience," Stoll said.

Administrators from the Bush Institute selected the interns based on an interview, references, a personal statement and grade point average.

The high school students are even paid $6.55 an hour by Texas Tech for their work -- a nice little bonus for the experience.

"This is a great opportunity for us to recruit students into science and technology," Stoll said.

"Nationwide, there is an emphasis on trying to attract students into science and biology. This is the best way to do it."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a yearlong Celebrate Education series of monthly articles about Amarillo employers who are helping others receive an education or advanced training. Articles will appear the last Sunday of the month in the Amarillo Globe-News. To submit a business or employer for consideration, e-mail [email protected]


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