Native AZ high school students and K-12 teachers research at U of A summer institute

TUCSON --This summer, a select group of high school students and science teachers from around the state -- including several reservations, as well as Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff and rural and border communities -- participated in research activities that may lead to the medical breakthroughs of tomorrow.

The Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance (SIMI) Research Programs for High School Students and K-12 Science Teachers at The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson offer financially, socially or educationally disadvantaged high school students and K-12 science teachers an opportunity to work full-time with pay on current biomedical research projects with distinguished UA College of Medicine researchers in their laboratories and medical offices.

Twenty-five high school students participated in the seven-week SIMI Research Apprentice Program, and 13 K-12 science teachers participated in the three-week K-12 Science Teacher SIMI Research Program. Both programs were held through July 20.

"The programs also encourage the students, teachers, researchers, professors and practitioners to maintain contact throughout the year," said Marlys Witte, MD, professor, UA College of Medicine Department of Surgery.

Dr. Witte directs both programs, which are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award.

In addition to research work, all participants attended an innovative seminar series, directed by Dr. Witte.

All participants also attended an Introduction to Molecular Medicine mini-course that offered hands-on, state-of-the-art laboratory sessions, including DNA isolation and DNA fingerprinting.The SIMI program also introduces participants to new technologies being developed including the first-ever broadband internet-based Virtual Clinical Research Center (VCRC) and the Medical Ignorance Exploratorium (MIEx).

The VCRC and MIEx provide access to specialized medical information, including videos and multimedia applications for student research. Using the UA Telemedicine Program and partnerships with other institutions, the VCRC and MIEx are creating live, internet-based, age-appropriate and culture-sensitive collaborative experiences that span clinical research topics from artificial hearts to breast cancer to gene therapy. Students become skilled "Questionators" who surf the internet for resources and navigate and query expanding "Isles of Medical Ignorance" as members of multidisciplinary clinical and translational research teams.

The MIEx was initiated last summer by The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center's Division of Biomedical Communications under the guidance of Peter Crown, PhD, multimedia collaboratory director, UA College of Medicine Department of Surgery. Part of the MIEx, called the Collaboratory Space, enables small groups of students to work together on a project via the internet at any time and wherever they are located. A webcam on each student's computer allows the team to see and speak with each other while they discuss a project, edit documents together and share internet resources. It also enables students to present questions to noted researchers around the country.

"Showcasing clinical research and clinical research teams in this collaborative, inquiry-driven, internet-based environment helps recruit the diverse clinical research teams of the future, forging new pathways of discovery and educating the public about clinical research, thereby facilitating the translation of basic science advances from bench to bedside to community," said Dr. Witte. "The VCRC and MIEx aim to show the K-12 community how current medical ignorance fuels the 3Qs -- Questions, Questioning and Questioners -- that energize the clinical research enterprise."

High School Students

Each student in the SIMI Research Apprentice Program worked with a researcher and often with medical students, as well.

More than 400 students have participated in the program since it first was offered at the UA in 1987.

Native American students who participated in this year's program included:

From Ft. Defiance: Thurman Thomas (Navajo), Ft. Defiance Window Rock High School (mentors: Marlys H. Witte, MD, professor, and Michael J. Bernas, MS, associate scientific investigator, UA College of Medicine Department of Surgery).

From Globe: J. Henry Daggett (San Carlos Apache), Globe High School (mentor: Robert L. Gatenby, MD, professor and head, UA College of Medicine Department of Radiology).

From Kayenta: Audreanna De La Rosa (Navajo), Monument Valley High School (mentor: Richard E. Sobonya, MD, professor, physiology). Rolaine Elsie Smallcanyon (Navajo), Monument Valley High School (mentor: Kimberly L. Gandy, MD, PhD, assistant professor, section of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, UA College of Medicine Department of Surgery).

From Sells: Cissimarie M. Juan (Tohono O'odham), Baboquivari High School (mentor: T. Philip Malan, Jr, MD, PhD, professor, anesthesiology and pharmacology).

From Tuba City:

Jordon J. Begay (Navajo), Tuba City High School (mentor: Paul F. McDonagh, PhD, professor, surgery).

Mia Henderson (Navajo), Tuba City High School (mentor: Murray H. Brilliant, PhD, Lindholm professor of mammalian genetics, UA College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics).

Nelson Sandoval (Navajo), Tuba City High School (mentor: T. Philip Malan Jr., MD, PhD, professor, anesthesiology and pharmacology).

K-12 Science Teachers

The K-12 Science Teacher SIMI Research Program provides K-12 science teachers ----who are disadvantaged themselves or who teach a significant number of financially, socially or educationally disadvantaged students -- opportunities to update their knowledge and skills in modern research techniques through hands-on experience with UA researchers and medical students.

"The teachers return to their classrooms with slides, specimens and other materials, and with a sense of the excitement of research, which helps stimulate their students to pursue scientific careers," Dr. Witte said. "During the past 15 years, we also have assisted them in enlivening their own science classes and units with questioning activities."

The teachers' experience enables them to advise their students about a variety of health careers. Their summer research colleagues also visit their classes as guest speakers during the school year.

This year, the teachers were mentored by Drs. Witte and Crown and instead of working in one lab, they gained experience in several research areas, observing the high school students working in their mentors' labs.

One hundred thirty-one teachers have participated in the program since it was introduced at the UA in 1991, with several participating more than one summer. Teachers of Native American students who participated in this year's program included:

From Sells: Gretchen L. Graef, Baboquivari High School.

From Whiteriver: Tyler R. Bangert, Alchesay High School.

For more information about the UA Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance (SIMI) Research Programs for High School Students and K-12 Science Teachers, visit the website,


Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.