For the ninth year, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) hosted several local high school students for a fellowship research experience at the school. The invited students are members of the elite Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS).
PJAS is a statewide organization sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Science, whose mission is to provide a forum where secondary students can conduct scientific research and present the results of that research on both a local and state level. In 2009, Dr. Clay LaCoe, regional director of PJAS, sought to forge a relationship between PJAS and GCSOM, resulting in the research program.
“The fellowship experience involves a two-day visit to the School of Medicine,” said Dr. Sonia Lobo Planey, associate dean for research and scholarship and associate professor of biochemistry at GCSOM. “Students are provided with career counseling specifically focused on improving their competitiveness for future careers in science/medicine; given opportunities to network with medical students, physicians and research scientists; and given complete access to our medical school’s state-of-the-art biomedical and bioinformatics research facilities.”
During the two-day experience, students conduct experiments and participate in biomedical research projects focused on a broad range of health topics of particular significance in northeastern Pennsylvania, including cancer, osteoporosis and obesity.
“Together with Dr. LaCoe, we saw an opportunity for students in the region to experience and understand what it means to be a working scientist and to gain access to a network of professionals who could mentor them about science/medical career opportunities,” Dr. Planey said. “As a result, we established the GCSOM/PJAS Fellowship, awarded annually to a very small and select group of PJAS students.”
Fellowship awardees are selected as part of a competitive process that involves the completion of an essay concerning a regional health problem and personal interview during the annual PJAS regional competition. To date, GCSOM has hosted 46 students.
From left: Maricruz Saucedo of Old Forge High School, Kristina Rinaldi, Natasha Kuklis, Olivia Zehel and Vaeda Pontosky, with Dr. Planey.