Introducing Local High School Students to Aging Research

Summer 2019 was an eventful time for the Stein Institute for Research on Aging and the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging. Select local high school students from the neighboring UCSD Preuss School participated in various aging research projects throughout our Center and the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The Stein Institute's Jackuelyn Harris High School Student Training in Aging Research (HS STAR) program is designed for exceptional, underrepresented high school students who are the first in their families to strive to go to college. During the summer, they join our researchers for a chance to learn and practice the daily activities involved in aging research in departments such as Family and Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry, Neurosciences, Orthopedic Surgery, and Bioengineering.

Selected students invest six weeks in the program and receive a stipend for their work. In addition to working on a specific research study, the students take part in an array of group activities developed to enhance their understanding of the aging process and provide opportunities for interaction with older adults.

This year's activities included a field trip to the Center of Functional MRI to look at brains with dementia; a visit to the Center for the Future of Surgery to try a surgical robot that helps older adults avoid side effects after minimally invasive surgeries; learning about research ethics and the genetics on aging; and performing neuropsychological assessments for signs of clinical decline.

At the conclusion of the summer program, students were required to complete a personal reflective essay and give an oral presentation to fellow students and faculty.

Here are some of the highlights from select students' experiences in their own words.

"My experience here in the HS STAR program never had a dull moment. It is by far the most interesting summer job I have ever had. I am glad to say that today I see the research world with new eyes. The lessons I learned and the people I met truly inspired and motivated me."

"Besides all the fascinating activities and didactics we took, the one experience that most impacted me was meeting my mentor. She inspired me and motivated me in several ways. She made it clear to me that it's important to meet your goals and not the goals of others. She also stressed the fact that sometimes the best way to learn is when you fall on your face and get up to try it again."

"One of my biggest accomplishments here at the HS STAR program was learning so much about the research world and life. I learned that research takes time and patience. Sometimes projects don't take off as soon as you would like. Research also takes teamwork and communication. Without communication, a team cannot be as efficient or as productive."

"Being a Latina and first in my family to go to college, this program was eye-opening to me. I was able to learn about different career paths from faculty members who come from different walks of life—some very similar to mine. This was inspiring and I plan to stay in touch with program staff and faculty as I continue my education and, hopefully, go to grad school. By taking part in didactics, I learned that research still has a long way to go in the Latino community; there is a lot of information and data that has not yet been collected. It's important to change that to find ways to better serve older Latino adults. Thanks to the HS STAR program, I might have found my calling in contributing to this in the future."

Congratulations to students who participated in the HS STAR program this summer and a big thank you to the dedicated mentors and instructors who volunteered their valuable time!