STARS 2011 attracts 35 students to labs

By Deborah Wormser / September 2011

 As a ninth-grader, Oscar Contreras participated in a summer science workshop presented by the Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern (STARS) at which teachers at the medical center coach colleagues from area schools on how to make science come alive for students.

The experience of watching the demonstration inspired Mr. Contreras to pursue his interest in science until he was old enough to compete for a summer-long spot in the 2011 STARS research program. Now a senior at the School of Business and Management at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center in Oak Cliff, Mr. Contreras spent his summer in the laboratory of Dr. Dominika Borek, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, learning how to do X-ray defraction of crystals in a protein study.

Another STARS participant, Bridget Munezero, was introduced to the program when her sophomore science teacher at W.H. Adamson High School in the Dallas Independent School District brought students to a STARS symposium.

Ms. Munezero, whose family emigrated from Uganda two years ago, applied for the program during her junior year at Emmett J. Conrad High School and spent eight weeks studying the genetics and mechanisms of spermatogenesis in the lab of Dr. F. Kent Hamra, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology.

“Now I have a basic knowledge of what a research scientist does and what a doctor has to go through,” Ms. Munezero said. Now a senior at Plano East Senior High School, she plans a career in medicine.

The STARS program goals include emphasizing improved hands-on science activities at underserved public schools by guiding teachers and outreach to students at those schools, especially members of racial, ethnic and economic groups traditionally underrepresented in science and medicine.

The paid internships allow some STARS students to avoid having to choose between research experiences and taking a summer job to help support their families.

And despite trying economic times, the STARS program is expanding, having doubled student involvement since 2005. The 2011 STARS class numbered 35, including some invited back for a second summer of research. One such participant, Greer Gardner, is a recent graduate of W.T. White High School and will major in biochemistry and dance at Harvard University this fall.

Dr. Stuart Ravnik, Assistant Dean of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Associate Director of the STARS program, noted that the program’s expansion was greatly helped by the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences’ commitment to sponsor at least one STARS student in each of the school’s 10 programs.

Funding for the program comes from the state of Texas, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Chase Bank.