Jefferson High School Science Teacher Dons Lab Coat in Hands-On Research at OHSU

08/14/01    Portland, Ore.

Outfitted in purple surgical gloves and white lab coats Chris Mason and Jeff Totten carefully mixed ethanol and water in the flask. They were getting ready to give it to the mice in their research study about the genetics of alcohol abuse.

Mason and Totten look like professional researchers. They are conducting real hands-on research in Oregon Health & Science University's Department of Behavioral Neuroscience Department. But both are part of the OHSU High School Research Apprentice Program for disadvantaged students and teachers from disadvantaged schools. Mason is a Hood River Valley High School student. Totten teaches science at Jefferson High School in Portland.

This year, there are 12 students and two high school teachers in the program. To meet the National Institute for Health criteria for disadvantaged students they must come from low-income families, children of non-college educated parents or from single parent households. The teachers must be from schools where there is a large population of disadvantaged students. Sixty applicants tried for entry to this program this year. They are selected based on a high grade point average, advanced coursework, an essay and a teacher's recommendation. "It's important the students will be able to do the scientific research needed," said Fred Risinger, co-director of the program and assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, School of Medicine.

"This program is for the student who may be less likely because of certain conditions who would be the least likely to be able to enter a science career. We're doing this to get the next generation involved in science," said Christopher Cunningham, co-director and professor of behavioral neuroscience. The apprentices work 40-hours a week for eight weeks during the summer in the Oregon Primate Center, School of Dentistry and the School of Medicine.

"This program is great," said Mason, 16, a junior at Hood River Valley High School. "It allows me to get my foot in the door of the scientific community 10 years before I would otherwise have such a chance." He is aiming for a career in research. Totten has discovered that there is a big difference between teaching science and doing science.

"By coming here I'm getting a better feel about how science is done, such as how to set up an experiment. I'll be taking this knowledge back to my students," Totten said.

Mason, Totten and the other apprentices work closely with an OHSU faculty member, such as Risinger and Cunningham.

As Mason and Totten worked at their computers, Salvador de la Cruz watched. He is part of the Promise Internship Program, which allows students from minority ethnic groups career-oriented experiences. Statewide agencies, including OHSU, sponsor the program. De la Cruz, 19, a sophomore at Willamette University in Salem, was assigned to serve as a peer mentor to the apprentices by OHSU's Office of Multicultural Affairs. Last year he was a research apprentice.

"Someone was there to help me, so I wanted to give back to someone else this year. Being in the High School Research Apprentice program gave me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise. It let me experience the kinds of jobs a person with an interest in science has open to them. The program allowed me to take a bite out of the real worlds of science," he said.

De la Cruz is interested in going to medical school at OHSU and sees his involvement in the Promise and the apprentice programs as a way to understand more about what it takes to be a physician. He will also have the opportunity to shadow tour and be involved in other meaningful experiences at OHSU this summer.