UCLA School of Dentistry creates future opportunities for disadvantaged, gifted high school students
A couple of years ago, Lakewood, Calif., high school senior Cameron Stevenson-Monroe had a hard time picturing himself pursuing a career in the sciences. But since he’s been part of a pre-college science education program at the UCLA School of Dentistry, he’s got greater aspirations.
"At first I was apprehensive about participating, since I would be doing something I wasn’t very familiar with and I didn’t want to mess anything up," said Stevenson-Monroe, 16. "But I’ve loved the experience. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve worked next to scientists in a research lab at UCLA."
Stevenson-Monroe is one of 12 participants in a two-year program co-funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Dean’s Office at the UCLA School of Dentistry, one of the leading oral health research institutes in the nation. The program, which has benefited 58 Los Angeles area high school students and is in its final year, exposes gifted and disadvantaged high school students like Stevenson-Moore to oral health and scientific research and, potentially, a promising career in the health sciences field. Fourteen faculty members from UCLA’s School of Dentistry have contributed their time and knowledge to enrich the students’ experience. Cutting-edge research projects have covered topics in bone biology, bioengineering, immunology, stem cell and cancer research.
"Since the start of the program in 2007, 58 students from either College Bound of Greater Los Angeles or Project GRAD Los Angeles have participated. So far every one of them has gone on to college, with a partial or full scholarship, to some of the top universities in the country," said Dr. Marvin Marcus, who, with Dr. Carl Maida, heads the program.
"I couldn’t be happier with the success of this program and the impact it’s made," Marcus said.
UCLA School of Dentistry’s dean, No-Hee Park, said that Marcus and Maida "have gone beyond my expectations for this pre-college science education program."
"In addition, the school’s faculty members have changed the lives of numerous young people over the past five years with their guidance and support," Park said.
Among the students is Michaela Scott, a 20-year-old UCLA psychobiology student who was part of the first group and hopes to pursue a degree in medicine. "Being part of this program prepared me for college, and I believe it set me apart from other college applicants," she said.
The program begins during the students’ junior year of high school with 10 Saturday meetings followed by an intensive six-week summer research experience at the School of Dentistry. During the summer portion of the program, research faculty members take time out of their busy schedules to mentor the students in laboratory techniques in the health sciences.
Year two of the program consists of a Saturday academy that prepares the now-senior high school student participants for a scientific presentation of their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Pacific Division’s annual meeting. The grant supporting the program, which was originally set to end in August, has been extended with unexpended funds so that the 12 current participants can complete their research.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed mentoring the students in science research and answering their questions," says Dr. Ichiro Nishimura, a participating faculty member. "I’m glad that we can complete the second year of the program with the current students and bring their experience full circle."
As for Stevenson-Monroe, he said that the most valuable thing he’s learned is to ask questions. "Before, I didn’t have the confidence and was too shy to speak up," he said. "But now I’m not as nervous and am really looking forward to asking even more questions in college."
The participating School of Dentistry research faculty members have included Drs. Shen Hu, Anahid Jewett, Mo Kang, Ichiro Nishimura, Takahiro Ogawa, No-Hee Park, Wenyuan Shi, Ki-Hyuk Shin, Igor Spigelman, Sotirios Tetradis, Cun-Yu Wang and David Wong.
The UCLA School of Dentistry is dedicated to improving the oral health of the people of California, the nation and the world through its teaching, research, patient care and public service initiatives. The school provides education and training programs that develop leaders in dental education, research, the profession and the community; conducts research programs that generate new knowledge, promote oral health and investigate the cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease in an individualized disease-prevention and management model; and delivers patient-centered oral health care to the community and the state.