Editor's note: this article was originally posted on Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's website.
It’s 1 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in July – smack dab in the middle of summer break – and a perfect 75 degrees outside; but Jonathan Park is laser-focused. Though he could be strolling down a beach, or at home browsing social media, this 16-year-old is bent over a lab bench, intently pipetting reagents to run an Amplex Red Assay.
Park, a soon-to-be junior at Dublin High School, is part of the 2019 cohort of the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) summer intensive, hosted and run by the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville. First launched in 2008, iCLEM immerses local Bay Area students in the biological sciences – and gives them a taste of day-to-day life as a scientist – through an eight-week-long blended curriculum of instruction, hands-on basic laboratory skill training, and in-depth tours of working labs within JBEI, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (which manages JBEI), and local biotech companies.
The students, who receive a stipend so that they may attend the program in place of a summer job, utilize their newfound knowledge by conducting independent research projects and presenting their findings at the end of the program.
“I didn't really know what to expect, I thought maybe we would just come in and do some experiments here and there,” said Park, while on a break from the lab. He explained that he hadn’t been drawn to science until last year’s honors chemistry class challenged him in a way that got his attention. “I was like, okay, this is really interesting, I need to try this out. And iCLEM was there at just the right time. Being here has really shattered my idea of biology, chemistry and physics being these separate things – I’ve learned that they're all just an integrated science that researchers use to do all these cool things, like making biofuels and actually saving the environment.”
The experience at iCLEM has motivated Park, who previously planned to study music, to pursue a double major with biochemistry when he attends college in 2021. If he follows through with his ambitions, Park will be in good company. According to Lauchlin Cruickshanks, iCLEM’s educational program administrator, 95% of past participants have gone on to continue their education at two or four-year colleges and universities, and 80% majored in science or engineering. Given that the program specifically recruits teens who face socioeconomic hurdles to higher education, this impressive attendance rate is a point of pride among the scientists and educators who make iCLEM happen.
Hoping to spread their prodigiously successful model beyond the confines of JBEI, a group of former and current scientific advisors have shared the iCLEM curriculum in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education.