High School Students Take A Deep Dive Into Stem Cell Research


At the end of August, 39 high school students who attend different public, private, and charter schools across New York City and the Northeast and hail from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, joined for NYSCF’s first-ever Stem Cell Research Immersive Experience, made possible with support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Over the course of three days, participants heard from NYSCF scientists and staff about their careers, got crash courses in stem cells and their ability to help us understand and treat disease, and even had a quick debate about who is better between Batman and Spiderman (jury’s still out).

“A lot of the reason I’m a teacher and working with NYSCF is that there’s not enough people who look like me and these students in science, and they need role models,” said Josh Modeste, a Black science teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce who helped lead the immersive and is committed to getting young BIPOC students and girls interested in STEM. Modeste also  participated in NYSCF’s High School Teacher Education Program. “The more these kids learn and are exposed to what’s possible, the better prepared they’ll be for their future careers.”

Taking a Peek into the Lab

While our first-ever Immersive was held virtually this year, students were still given a look into the inner workings of NYSCF’s labs and were able to ask scientists questions about their research. Talks covered everything from gene editing to regenerative medicine to disease modeling, and students asked questions and shared their opinions on important topics in biomedical research.

“I think gene editing should be used for research and treatment or prevention of life-threatening diseases, but I wouldn’t support it to change eye or hair color, or to reduce risk of a treatable disease,” said one student during a discussion on the ethics of gene editing. “If you can already treat a disease, it doesn’t seem worth the risk to do gene editing.”

“I would want to do it if my family member really needed it,” added another student about whether she would want a family member to undergo a gene or cell replacement therapy to potentially cure a disease. “Yes, there are some risks but personally those are risks I’d be willing to take if it improves their situation.”

“Everyone had outstanding questions and thoughts to share, and it’s wonderful to see young minds so enthusiastic about science,” remarked NYSCF Associate Vice President of Scientific Outreach Raeka Aiyar, PhD

The students completed at-home virtual laboratory assignments and were encouraged to identify what they’d like to learn more about or get clarification on different topics. By the end of the program, students indicated that they felt more secure in their understanding of stem cells and were excited to continue learning about their applications for helping patients.

Exploring Careers in STEM

Each day, students were split into small groups for lunch chats with NYSCF scientists and staff where they discussed career paths in STEM and gave input on how to achieve professional goals. They also listened in on a career panel composed of individuals in a variety of roles at NYSCF including legal, women’s reproductive cancers, cell therapy, and engineering.

“I found out that Christine comes from a family of doctors and was able to combine her communication skills with her medicine background to connect NYSCF with donors,” remarked one student who had lunch with NYSCF’s Chief Development Officer Christine Lin.

“Cecile told us that if you go for what you really want, good things will happen, which I thought was reassuring,” said another student who spoke with Cecile Terrenoire, PhD, NYSCF’s Senior Director of Process Development. 

Students also participated in professional workshops aimed at improving their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and science communication skills. They then participated in mock interviews with members of NYSCF staff where they received feedback on how to stand out as a job applicant.

NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD, also dropped by to give a few words of advice, asking students to think big and pursue their dreams.

“What are you passionate about? If you could have all of the resources you’d like, what would your plan be?” she posited. “Don’t get discouraged just because something is difficult or hasn’t been done before.”

A Transformational Experience

For many students, the summer immersive was an eye-opening experience that illustrated the impact of stem cells and new possibilities for research and treatment.

“There’s a real emphasis on the future here,” noted one student. “I like the holistic way NYSCF approaches its work, and I learned a lot.”

Others were impressed by NYSCF’s model of pursuing risky, but promising research.

“I admire that NYSCF does a lot of high-risk, high-reward work,” added another participant. “They aren’t just saying ‘this is something someone should do.’ They are going above and beyond to make real world breakthroughs.”

Overall, the students were happy that organizations like NYSCF are committed to supporting the next generations of scientists that will make tomorrow’s big discoveries and pushing them to advocate for important causes in STEM.

“I love that NYSCF is combating gender inequality and teaching young people to speak up about these issues,” said one student.

“Knowing that there are organizations like NYSCF that want us to do well and succeed is so heartening,” agreed another. “It gives me a lot of hope.”

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