When Mary Osborne and some of her classmates toured the James Graham Brown Cancer Center (JGBCC) and research facilities at the University of Louisville, she had a lot of questions. The sophomore at Central Hardin High School was fascinated by the research and treatments that Brian Clem, PhD described for the students.

“When we got to ask him questions. I basically ended up grilling him about what he was doing,” Osborne said.

Clem, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at UofL and a researcher with JGBCC, appreciated her curiosity and encouraged her to apply for the Summer Research Intern Program sponsored by JGBCC for high school students.

“Mary asked me probably 30 questions on that tour. Her interest and enthusiasm stood out,” Clem said. “I definitely requested to have her as an intern.”

The 2015 Summer Research Intern Program is providing 14 high school students from the Greater Louisville area with the opportunity to work in a University of Louisville medical research lab under the guidance of some of the top cancer researchers in the nation. Each student is assigned one of the Cancer Center’s research faculty as a mentor and works in that researcher’s lab for eight weeks. JGBCC has hosted the program for the past 13 summers as a way to reach out to the area’s budding scientists.

“I love science and I love that there never is really an answer to everything. There is always another question,” said Osborne, who hopes to pursue a career in medicine or science. “We can find treatments for cancer, but we want to find treatments for individual people. Every cancer is different.”

Many of the students in the program aspire to careers in medicine or research, and having spent a summer working in a medical lab and with an established researcher is an impressive point on the student’s resume and college applications. Another student in the program, Kyle Bilyeu, graduated from Louisville’s Trinity High School this spring and has been working with John Eaton, Ph.D., and Chi Li, Ph.D., this summer. He sees the program as a chance to get ahead on the path to becoming a clinical oncologist.

“This experience is invaluable. This introduction puts me ahead of everyone as I progress through my career goals,” said Bilyeu, who will enroll at UofL this fall as an undergraduate.

The program also gives UofL the chance to introduce the University’s vibrant research community to bright, curious students from the local area like Osborne and Bilyeu.

“UofL and the Cancer Center are trying to get high school students interested in science,” Clem said. “We want to highlight what UofL has to offer in terms of research to keep them in the city instead of going elsewhere for their education. Plus, it gets my foot in the door with them. If I find a really good student, I like to have them come back.”

Clem says that the researchers also benefit from having the young students in the lab.

“They bring a lot of different dynamics to the lab during the summer. It reinforces your teaching and mentorship ability,” Clem said. “High school students are inexperienced in the science background and knowledge necessary to work in the lab. You have to start from scratch. It is amazing to see how they progress in their knowledge base and ability to grasp new ideas and gain hands-on experience.”

Clem said one of the most difficult lessons for a high school-age student is understanding that experiments don’t always work the first time.

“The students get a crash course in the ups and downs of things not working and troubleshooting. They realize that research isn’t about everything working; 80 to 90 percent of it is about why stuff isn’t working,” Clem said.

Betty Coffman
Betty Coffman is a Communications Coordinator focused on research and innovation at UofL. A UofL alumna and Louisville native, she served as a writer and editor for local and national publications and as an account services coordinator and copywriter for marketing and design firms prior to joining UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing.