In 2018, Carol Carter, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, crossed paths with Stony Brook alumnus Jason Williams ’04, currently assistant director for external collaborations at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center (CSHLC), when both served as judges in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) competitions across Long Island.
The mutual experience led to the launch of a summer camp STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) experience directed at high school students from groups currently underrepresented in health sciences professions, specifically African Americans, Native American Indians, Alaskans, Hispanics and Native Pacific Islanders.
“Our intention was to arouse curiosity about science generally and to expand the pipeline of students who ultimately engage in the health science professions by reaching out to those with limited means of obtaining pertinent ‘hands-on’ opportunities,” said Carter. “In particular, we wanted to provide these students with an experience they could put on their resume that might enable greater access to research internships in colleges and universities.”
The result of their efforts – the STARS (Science, Technology and Research Scholars) Camp — is a two-week summer research experience designed to support the next generation of minority scientists, doctors, and other health professionals. The program, which is about to begin its third year, provides students with the latest laboratory and computer science skills needed to succeed in STEM courses in college and beyond.
Students conduct hands-on science and computer projects and participate in enrichment activities including discussions with researchers and tours of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University campuses. After the two-week program concludes, students join an alumni network that links them to mentors and older STARS who encourage future research engagement and offer advice regarding college preparation, which includes school-year in-person and virtual activities.
“Our idea seamlessly blended and focused the strengths of the CSHLC and Laboratory in delivering outstanding STEM exposure and the breadth of health science-related resources available at the Stony Brook Schools of Medicine and Marine Sciences,” said Carter. “This program offers a state-of-the-art wet and dry laboratory experience, where students build skills in three areas.”
The first area is basic laboratory skills, including DNA isolation techniques, barcoding, programming languages and applications in use for bioinformatics. Another area focuses on science communication across different media including written, oral, and video presentations, and formulating science research questions. The third area includes career skills such as writing a resume, finding mentors, and developing effective study techniques.
STARS receive advice from Stony Brook staff who are experts in the college admissions process, and learn about career opportunities in the environmental and health sciences from CSHL and SBU faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates who are actively engaged in different areas of research.
All accepted students have the $1,200 tuition waived. In exchange, students assume a community engagement responsibility, which includes a commitment to help recruit and support future STAR scholars through the alumni network and to participate in community service. An example of a community service activity is their recent COVID-19 Community Outreach project in which students created videos to raise vaccine awareness in minority communities (https://dnalc.cshl.edu/resources/students-talk-science/ ).
“This endeavor is a perfect example of how a Cold Spring Harbor/Stony Brook collaboration can benefit the entire Long Island community,” said Carter.
— Robert Emproto