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Children's Hospital LA internship program offers underserved students lifetime science opportunities

August 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
While many of us were relaxing this summer, high school seniors from many of L.A.'s underserved communities worked alongside scientists from the Saban Research Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Many now are dreaming of goals beyond college, like medical school.

Six weeks ago, Roosevelt High senior Matthew Valenzuela never dreamed he'd be standing before medical researchers presenting findings on drug-resistant neuroblastoma cells.

The same for senior Roxana Rodriguez of Highland Park. She's presenting her findings on obesity and its hormonal connection to the brain.

What Rodriguez is learning at Children's Hospital Los Angeles is light years ahead of what she gets in a classroom, and may help find a solution to a serious health problem some day.

The director of the Latino and African-American High School Internship Program (LA-HIP) recruits minorities from underserved L.A.-area neighborhoods.

Dr. Emil Bogenmann says only 3 to 5 percent of biomedical researchers are Latino or African-American.

"We need to have role models in that community who do the research in that community, to benefit the future of young people from those communities," said Dr. Bogenmann.

Out of 100 applicants, mentors chose 16 interns. Each was paired with world-renowned science researchers at CHLA. It's been six years and every LA-HIP graduate has finished college.

"It always amazes me what you can do in six weeks," said Dr. Bogenmann.

The internship doesn't just end after six weeks. The kids can come back and get help with college placement, financial aid, and there's plans for even more.

"The program has evolved from a six-week thing to a lifelong program for students," said Dr. Bogenmann.

Both Roxana and Matthew want to be doctors, something their parents would never be able to afford. But after this summer they feel they can do anything.

Dr. Bogenmann is working on getting grants for a postgraduate program to help LA-HIP students after they graduate college. It'll be a stepping stone for students interested in pursuing higher degrees, and maybe even medical school.