Summer science internship offers opportunities for Michigan high school students

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has launched a summer research program for high school students from under-resourced Michigan communities.

The Aspirnaut Summer Research Internship Program at the University of Michigan is a six-week, immersive program providing students with hands-on research experience in state-of-the-art labs at the Life Sciences Institute. In addition to gaining scientific research experience, participants spend the summer bonding with peers and mentors while living on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.

The program seeks students from under-resourced school districts, first-generation college students, and students whose lives have factors that would otherwise put a science-intensive program at a major research university out of reach.

Four high school students from rural and urban communities across Michigan participated in this summer’s program, along with two students from rural New Mexico. All six would be the first person in their families to attend college.

“Passion for science knows no ZIP code,” says LSI Education Outreach Coordinator Adam Iliff, Ph.D. “Our goal is to give more students a chance to explore what science research looks like, regardless of their proximity to a major research institution, and to provide a foothold to climb to college enrollment and a career in a science or technology field.”

The Aspirnaut internship provides students with a stipend, room and board, and college test prep classes, along with a host of professional development and social opportunities.

The program at U-M adapts key elements of the highly successful Aspirnaut program founded by two Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty members, Julie and Billy Hudson. The Hudsons established Aspirnaut as an independent non-profit with strong ties to Vanderbilt.

Metrics of success have far exceeded national norms, the Hudsons note.

As of 2018 — the program’s 10th summer — out of 120 high school participants in the Vanderbilt program, 100 students had attended college, with 73 of them pursuing studies in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering or math). Meanwhile, 70 percent of participants who have graduated from college were pursuing advanced degrees in STEM or had entered the STEM workforce.

Each year, several undergraduate students also participate in the program, serving as mentors and activity supervisors for the high school students — while also getting hands-on research experience.

U-M Life Sciences Institute Director Roger Cone, Ph.D., participated in the program as a faculty member at Vanderbilt before joining U-M in 2016, and hosted a small pilot program at the Life Sciences Institute in 2017.

“I’ve seen firsthand the tremendous, long-lasting impact that programs like this can have,” Cone says.

The program was formally launched at U-M with a gift from a generous donor, and additional philanthropic support is welcomed. The U-M program will primarily focus on students from Michigan. Students from out-of-state schools that have established relationships with the Aspirnaut program will also participate in the Michigan program.

The LSI is working with select schools across Michigan to recruit applicants for the 2019 cohort. General applications are not being accepted at this time..

Note: The Aspirnaut name is a trademark of the original program.

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Visit the U-M Aspirnaut Website