Julianna Christ said assisting with a university research project for liver cancer epidemiology in South America piqued her interest in the medical field.
Christ has been working with University of Minnesota professor Jose Debes, though she isn’t a college student.
She’s one of the Apple Valley High School students who were chosen for paid research assistant positions as part of the U of M Twin Cities’ “H2U: Global Health and Equity Research Program.” The program is run out of the Department of Medicine with support from the University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid program, as well as support from mentors.
Christ has been working with REDCap database to compile the data and learning more about spreadsheets.
“Going forward I think that the connections I’ve made through this program helps me identify what I want to do in the future,” she said.
Twelve students were originally selected for the program in spring 2021 with one later having to drop out.
According to AVHS, the program introduces high school students the research world through University of Minnesota professors mentoring and leading students in global health and health equity projects.
All of the participants took part in “five online lectures, professional skill development by contributing to a research team, and research skill development tailored to a student’s goals and interests.”
Some students participated a summer program which ran from June to August while the academic year program began in June and will end May 31. The program required students to allot about four to five hours a week for the summer program, while students in the academic year program have dedicated two to three hours a week. They are paid a small stipend for their involvement.
“These students were selected after a competitive application and interview process that included answering questions by research professionals from around the world,” according to an AVHS news release. “These same research professionals will choose their students in the H2U program to be active participants in writing the reports submitted to academic journals in their fields.”
Apple Valley High staff and Debes collaborated to create the program. Debes said the idea for the program came in 2020 after U of M staff in the Department of Medicine wanted to include more minorities and other underrepresented people and have an impact earlier in students’ lives.
Debes said the research projects have included ones related to cancer in South America, COVID-19 in immigrants in the United States or meningitis in Uganda.
“There is a wide variety ... whatever the students do is also very different,” he said. “Some of them help with translation. Some others help with data collection.”
The idea of the program is that the student can learn something they can apply later on.
“Say they learned to work with REDCap, which is a database; so they learn how to make a poster for a scientific meeting. So then when that student hopefully goes to college, and eventually wants to apply to university and wants to do research, that they have something that they can offer,” Debes said.
AVHS junior Clarissa Netto has been working in the academic year program and has been helping pediatrician and professor Hope Pogemiller with a project related to improving medical services for immigrant and refugee patients. Netto said she’s been helping debunk myths about COVID-19 and vaccines.
“Now I’m really focusing on making an actual project revolving around a poster and how doctors and nurses can correlate their schedules in order to make a more communicative medical field,” she said.
Netto said she’s learned the importance of time management from the program, and she said it was definitely not what she expected.
“I thought this program was going to be more like school, making research papers, all that. I didn’t really think it was going to be more project based,” she said. “So, I was actually pleasantly surprised on how this program works. And I’m definitely still interested in being here for the long run.”
On an institutional level, the H2U program could have an impact on introducing younger students to research. University staff see it as growing and building the pipeline, said Molly McCoy U of M global research and training coordinator.
“I think we all recognize the importance of having underrepresented minority students in these sorts of research positions, leadership roles, bringing their talents and expertise to the table,” she said. “And so I think that this is a huge benefit to the University of Minnesota as a whole by really investing in the future of our biomedical researchers.”
When asked about the future of the project, McCabe said they hope to keep the number of student participants to around 12, but it will depend largely on mentor availability.
Patty Dexter can be reached at email@example.com.