As reported by The Hartford Courant, August 6, 2004.

In Program, Students Do, and Discuss, Medical Research

By Gosia Wozniacka

FARMINGTON -- Chantal Costen didn't look nervous as she took the stage in the Keller Auditorium at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

The Bloomfield High School senior gave her Power Point presentation to an audience of distinguished UConn doctors and professors.

"The purpose of my study was to determine if an ovalbumin-induced mouse model of asthma is similar to patients," she said.

Costen is presenting the research she conducted on mice, to which she gave asthma-like lesions, so she could study their cell behavior.

She is one of eleven high school students who presented their research Thursday at the UConn Health Center during a special symposium. The students are participants in the High School Student Research Apprentice Program, which provides high school juniors a summer research experience in a UConn lab.

The program, in its 18th year, is geared toward students from the Hartford area, although students with an interest in medicine or science from all over Connecticut can apply. The program is funded by a $100,000 grant from People's Bank.

For six weeks this summer, the students worked in the labs at the Health Center or on the Storrs campus under the supervision of professors, undergraduate and graduate students. They were assigned to research experiments, which they mastered and then performed on their own.

Students also participated in professional development seminars and met with college recruiters. The program culminated with the presentation of research data mostly analyzed by the students.

For Costen, who applied because she was interested in a career in medicine, the program was an eye-opener. She now plans to shadow two doctors at the Health Center.

"The medical field is so big; this [program] helped me narrow it down," she said. "I realized I want to be more in a hands-on field, to work with patients in the clinic. The [UConn] students I worked with helped me make my decision. They told me about the ups and downs of medical school."

Costen worked with Dr. Roger Thrall, professor of medicine in the pulmonary medicine department, and his students. With the help of state-of-the-art equipment, Costen proved her research hypothesis: that asthmatic mice have a higher count of white blood cells. Her research, she told the audience, could help decipher the mechanisms involved in asthma.

"I'm involved in this program because of the enthusiasm of the students," said Thrall, who received the program's faculty award this year. "Chantal did a fantastic job. I think it's great for high school students to see basic science research and be involved in it. Their work benefits my lab and the research."

Dr. Marja Hurley, the first African American female physician associated with the UConn Health Center, developed the research apprentice program in 1986. Hurley is now professor of medicine and associate dean and director of UConn's Health Career Opportunity Programs.

"It's always amazing to everyone that these students have not had much research experience, and yet they get in the lab and this is the work they do," Hurley said. "They are not presenting other people's work. It's their own. They're very excited by the opportunity and seem to adjust well to being in the lab."

Hurley said many students who graduate from the program go on to medical and dental schools, including UConn's.

Tashana Mitchell, a senior at Weaver High School in Hartford, who studied gene expression in colon cancer cells this summer, plans to attend medical school to be an OB-GYN after she graduates from high school and college.

"The program was a great experience, even though the first day I didn't understand even one word," she said. "Now I can do the experiments without supervision. I've always wanted to be a doctor, and this is going to help me get there."

Along with Costen and Mitchell, the participants in this year's apprentice program were: Pauley Chea of Crosby High School in Waterbury; Somdatta Das and Mariama Evans of Conard High School in West Hartford; ShaRhonda Funnye of Windsor High School; Keith Hernandez and Charlika Martin of Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield; Yuk-Shan Li of Bulkeley High School in Hartford; Michelle Rodriguez of Central Magnet High School in Bridgeport; and Ana Soto of Bassick High School in Bridgeport.