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Spotlight on HS STAR

​The Jackuelyn Harris High School Summer Training in Aging Research (HS STAR) program is designed to provide exceptional underrepresented junior and senior high school students from San Diego with a chance to learn and practice the daily activities involved in aging research alongside a UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging faculty mentor. The program encourages students to consider a career in aging or academic geriatrics.  

Here are a couple testimonials highlighting the program.

Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD
HS STAR Mentor and Volunteer
Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, UC San Diego

HS STAR program is important on two levels. First, it allows young people to come to the laboratory and understand what it means to be a scientist. Students have a chance to plan and perform experiments, analyze data, participate in lab discussions during lab meetings, and contribute to the research. I believe this gives them the background to decide in the future whether they would like to continue a scientific career. Second positive impact of the program is specific to HS STAR program—it recruits young students to work on a subject relevant to aging, healthy aging, mechanisms of age-related diseases and studies, etc. This is particularly important as it can recruit new people—new brains investigating aging, which, in the future, may help design new treatments or helping devices for aging society. 

I consider this program quite unique because of its focus, and I strongly believe that we should encourage students to follow this path. I was volunteering in the lab since I entered college and I remember how great an experience it was for me. Not only did it allow me to learn techniques and critical-thinking skills way before my peers, but it also gave me an understanding of what science is and what it means to do experiments—both concepts quite unfamiliar to me at that time. Therefore, when I saw that the program helps young people to achieve their goals, I wanted to be included. This program is especially close to what we do in the laboratory (aging); therefore, I plan to be included as long as I can to help people in their early careers.

This year’s project of HS STAR students was exploratory. We were investigating changes in trabecular meshwork—part of the eye that is responsible for maintaining the healthy intraocular pressure. In this project, students analyzed the presence of senescent cells and adult stem cells in trabecular meshwork. After five weeks of study, we concluded that there are many senescent cells in the tissues isolated from patients suffering on glaucoma. Additionally, students observed the presence of scattered cells that could be named adult stem cells, which in the future could be harnessed to repair aged tissue in situ. This is the beginning of very exciting studies in the lab, and we wish to continue them during the year. We had two very eager-to-learn students, and this is why we were able to achieve so much.

Allison Balaguer
High School Student and HS STAR Trainee

I am so thankful for the amazing opportunity to work in Dr. Suzi Hong’s lab on her HAPI-CHI research project! Dr. Hong is the associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego. 

The purpose of the HAPI-CHI study is to find out whether participation in a healthy aging seminar series or tai chi classes has an effect on the physical and mental health of older adults with elevated blood pressure. Participants are randomly assigned to receive either twelve weeks of a free healthy aging seminar series or tai chi classes. They are also asked to complete detailed cardiovascular assessments, laboratory blood tests, a bicycle exercise task, and questionnaires.

These first-hand experiences gained from working in a real-life lab environment with Dr. Hong offered something I could not have learned in a classroom setting. This internship has helped me advance my career goals by adding to my skill set and allowing me to learn about the different aspects of aging research. After high school, I plan to further my education by going to a four-year college or university to study biology and be the first person in my family to graduate from college.

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