I was a Summer Scholar when I was entering my junior year of high school. I remember feeling intimidated at first, I hadn’t done a program like this before. However, over the course of the week I came to realize that I knew more about research that I thought, though there was still plenty for me to learn.
The Summer Scholar’s program involves developing an independent project. For my own independent project, I did a content analysis of Twitter posts that used #breastcancer or #prostatecancer. I was interested in seeing if there were different discussions online between those cancers. Presenting my research was one of the highlights for me; sharing knowledge is probably next to tennis on my list of favorite things to do.
One of the most important lessons I learned from Summer Scholars is “whatever you put in is what you’ll get out”…so here are a couple pieces of advice that helped me put in my all.
Many people are familiar with the linear path to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, but the path to a career in research is harder to quantify. Thanks to the Summer Scholars Program at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT), Scholar alumni and current high school senior Tommy LaGuardia participated in the research process early on in high school career, which helped him develop research skills and identify specific areas of interest to pursue in the future.
“Being exposed to [research] head on instead of looking at it through a newsletter or magazine or research article, it’s even more impactful,” Tommy said. “Then, I can envision myself in [that] position.”
While participating in the Summer Scholars program, Tommy worked on a project about how violence and video games affect teens and behavior. Tommy noted the program informed his perception of social media’s role in this life, and how it affects his peers.
“Not only do I get to see firsthand and how social media affects teens because I am a teen, but [I also see] people at school or on social media that are in my grade or younger than me interact [with it], or how they display themselves,” Tommy said. “In the back of my head, I’m reverting back to what I learned at SMAHRT and how this behavior has progressed over time. It’s one of those things that make me more aware of what’s going on in the world.”
In addition to working on projects related to social media research while at SMAHRT, Tommy also learned about other professions related to health care. While in the program, he met researchers in the field like Dr. Robert Bradley at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and was introduced to biomedical research.
“SMAHRT was great in the fact that they exposed to a lot of different researchers and scientists that I hadn’t encountered before, or wouldn’t have imagined that I would encounter,” Tommy said.
“Connections that I made at SMAHRT pushed me [to be curious] about the field and inspired me to pursue a passion for the medical field.”
After the Summer Scholars Program, Tommy went on to complete a summer internship at Fred Hutch where he researched how RNA splicing can help treat myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia. In addition to doing research at Fred Hutch and SMAHRT, Tommy has been open to a variety of opportunities and industries when pursuing extracurricular activities, which is why he participated in student government, worked at Microsoft, and conducted research all while taking difficult IB courses in high school.
This spring, Tommy will graduate from Kent-Meridian High School and go on to attend Stanford University in the fall with a full-ride scholarship through QuestBridge, a program that bridges the gap between high-achieving but economically disadvantaged or educationally underserved youth with opportunities to attend leading colleges across the nation.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so it’s a big deal. Although I’m saying that I did this for my parents and my family, it’s [also] for future generations as a Pacific Islander,” Tommy said. “[I hope] to show that the younger ones can accomplish whatever I accomplish, if not more than that.”
At Stanford, Tommy hopes to major in biochemistry and learn about biomedical research, and he is exploring potential careers as a healthcare professional or research. Regardless of the specific field, Tommy clearly has big things ahead of him.
“All of my life or passion in the medical field spurs from the fact that I want to make an impact on the world. I think everyone wants to do that,” Tommy said. “The way I hope to do so is hopefully through the medical field.”
While taking rigorous courses and conducting research, Tommy continues to draw strength from the people in his life, particularly his mother Catherine, father Tommy, stepfather Salesi, and academic counselors Mrs. Moss and Mrs. McClung at Kent-Meridian.
“It is always important to push forward, and to remember to reflect,” Tommy said. “My mom has always been a grounding force to me.”
Tommy’s advice to future participants in the Summer Scholars Program is to be open to exploring new fields, and programs like Summer Scholars is one outlet for doing this.
“Be open to collaborate and network,” Tommy said. “This was how I was able to find my opportunity at the Fred Hutch. I learned a lot of RNA splicing and how that related to cancer and other human disease[s].”
Catherine expressed gratitude to SMAHRT for supporting Thomas’ goals and providing the opportunity for him participate in a program like Summer Scholars and learn about research.
“Thomas is kind, honest, humble, and very quiet about his achievements and hard work,” Catherine said. “I know, one day, Thomas plans to work in research and help make the world a better place and always give back, and a lot of it had to do with the volunteer time at places like [SMAHRT].”
Tommy is excited to head off to California in the fall because he’ll be close to his family while still attending an academically rigorous school with a plethora of research opportunities. Ultimately, Tommy is thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to attend Stanford and identify the next steps in his career.
“Knowing what I’ve done is great, but I also acknowledge I couldn’t be where I am without my teachers, counselors, family, friends, and peers, especially SMAHRT,” Tommy said.
Public policy, costume making, and biochemistry are just a tip of the iceberg of things that Ema is fascinated with. Ema was a part of Summer Scholars in 2016 and since then has been very involved being a part of SMAHRT’s Youth Advisory Board. We had such an amazing time catching up with Ema recently to see what she’s been up to since starting her junior year at University Prep High School.
Q: Are there any sports, activities, clubs, etc. that you are involved in? If so, what are they, and why do you like to be involved: A: I am currently in a theater class where I take part in designing costumes. I’ve had the opportunity to look through catalogs, order the pieces that I need, and make the whole costume work for each character in the school musical. I have always really enjoyed playing dress up since elementary school and since then it has evolved into costume making. I recently started taking a more leadership role in this class. Additionally, I am the head of the Model UN team, gender equity club, Women in Science club, and our school’s community service club. Q: Wow, there is definitely a lot on your plate, how do you manage to get so much done?A: [laughs] Not a lot of sleep. But [with these opportunities], I’ve met so many different people, it has certainly been worth it.
Q: Do you have any post-secondary education plans? If so, do you have a dream college in mind? A: For awhile now, I have wanted to go into pediatrics with an emphasis in global health. For college, I would like to study biochemistry or public policy – political science, dependent on the school. I really want to focus on ethics and bioethics. I enjoy the sciences and I love kids. Ever since middle school, I have been very involved in advocacy, because it is through those demonstrations that I can have a voice (especially politically, where my voice isn’t normally heard because of my age). I truly believe that health care is a big part of life. I want to be able to make a lasting positive impact in this world. I think down the line after college, I would want to pursue a Medical Degree in conjunction with a Master’s in Public Health. Q: Did participating in Summer Scholars help guide you towards a certain major, career path, or field of study? If so, how? A: Before this program, I didn’t really have a grasp on research. The panel of guest speakers really made a lasting impression on me. It helped me solidify what I wanted to do in the future, affirming me the value in getting a Master’s in Public Health. I also learned that sometimes in certain research fields, findings are not translated well for the general public; I want to be a part of changing that.
Q: After being a part of the Summer Scholars program, what is your view about the research world? Did your perspective change after being a part of the program? If so, how did it change? A: It was great to see how the “machine” works behind the scenes. I definitely want to get involved with research in college, to make sure I get more of this experience. I want to be a practitioner more, but experience in research is helpful especially in translating the information [from findings to real-world applications or implications]. Q: What advice would you give to future Scholars? A: DO IT, IT IS SO MUCH FUN! You have to be okay with the fact that you might not know anyone, but definitely be open to meeting people. Advice wise, take every opportunity that you get. They may not be the perfect ones, not exactly, but they are all very valuable experiences. For me, this experience was extremely valuable in many regards, but especially in networking. I was at my school’s service fair to set up and someone from Seattle Children’s Research Institute (a non-SMAHRTie), recognized me from the poster presentations!
The term “research” had always been a very ambiguous for Christine Nguyen, and her closest experience prior to Summer Scholars 2016 was using Google search for class assignments. We had a great opportunity to catch up with Christine to see what she has been up to since Scholars 2016 and to see how she has been doing since starting her junior year at Highline High School.
Are there any sports, activities, or clubs, that you are involved in? If so, what are they, and why do you like to be involved?
Nguyen: “I’ve been involved in Key Club, which is a school service club. I volunteer with this club because I really want to give back to the community. I am on the swim team and the track team, and I recently joined gymnastics. I joined gymnastics, because I knew there would be few opportunities to try it in the future, and I would regret it if I didn’t. However, I also wanted to test my own fear, because I have an irrational fear of physical pain. Pretty surprising, right? Though I wouldn’t say I conquered it, it was a step toward growing past it. Also, in a few weeks time, I will be returning to the local cultural school to teach [kindergarten-aged] youth about their heritage and their mother tongue.”
Wow, that seems like quite a lot on your plate, how do you manage everything?
Nguyen: “It’s definitely a lot more than I had planned especially for junior year, but I think with all this, I’ve been able to learn more about how to balance getting everything done and still enjoy each one. I’m learning that if I really want to do something, I can always make time for it. Though I do have a fair amount on my plate, I have the drive to do (almost) everything I need to do, so while it is extremely time consuming, it is all worth it, and I’m willing to make the sacrifices in order to do it all.”
Last time we spoke, you mentioned your interest in Communications and possibly dabbling into Biology or Environmental Health, has that changed since then?
Nguyen: “For the category of majors, I recently started considering Nutrition as a possible field of study, because I have an interest in how food affects the body and the benefits of eating certain foods. How stereotypical of me to be a teenager having interest in food, but I really do enjoy healthful and mindful eating! With that, I’m also interested in other aspects of health, being physical and mental health. Another path of interest that have come up since the last time we spoke is social work. I have a lot of interests, so we’ll have to wait and see what I end up doing in a few years. Down the line, though, no matter what, I want to be helping people with whatever I do”
It’s been about half a year since the Summer Scholars Program for you, has it help guide you towards a certain major, career path, or field of study? If so, and why?
Nguyen: “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the world in a non-biased manner especially as part of generation that is so involved in social media. Since the program, I have been able to take a step back from how I know things and now have learned to also see things from other’s perspectives.”
How did you see that in through the program?
Nguyen: “It was definitely through balancing both independent work and also collaborating with other Scholars with the support with SMAHRT mentors”
Reflecting on your own Scholar experience, what advice would you give to future scholars?
Nguyen: “I would have to say conduct a project that interests them and [that they] will be able see impacts in their own lives. Also use this project [to gain a better understanding] to benefit the community. This isn’t just a job shadowing [program], it is truly an experiential one. It’s very different from classes at school. Since being a part of this program, I have been able to apply the skills that I learned in my classes. Even in English class now, reading is like collecting data and interpreting the reading is like analyzing the data. It has taught me how to make sense of things”
What do you look forward to most in the upcoming year?
Nguyen: “As of right now, I’m looking forward to the warm sunshine, though not hot weather, being able to enjoy whatever nature has to offer, and the (currently unknown) adventures I hopefully will embark on.”
After the nice two-week vacation from school, college students are in the midst of acclimating to a new quarter, new courses, and new activities. One of these students getting back into the swing of school is Megan Stein, a first-year at Western Washington University and our Scholar Spotlight for January. Her intended major is Psychology with a focus on abnormal psychology, which is essentially the science of mental disorders. Stein is a highly motivated student who has already thought about her graduate school goals, and plans to either get a PhD in clinical psychology, or a Psychology Doctorate either in the United States or Canada.
Q: Are there any activities that you are involved in outside of school? If so, what are they, and why do you like to be involved?
A: “Back in High School, I was actually involved in a multicultural Vietnamese club where I fan dance. I got involved in this because I am half Vietnamese, and I grew up with Vietnamese dancing. At Western Washington University, I am in the psychology club, Mixed Identity Student Organization, the mindfulness club, and NAMI on Camopus. NAMI is an organization which works to advance mental health advocacy, awareness, and resource sharing. I am also on the team of an action research project which aims to increase diversity and inclusion in the psychology department at Western Washington University. I like to be involved in these things to engage in broader discourse and learn other perspectives, be engaged in my community, and to contribute in the well-being of campus. ”
Click here to see a video of Stein’s multicultural Vietnamese club doing their first performance of fan dancing.
Q: What topics/areas of study do you find most interesting related to social media and adolescent health?
A: “I am interested in how social media can do good because right now, I do not think that social media is being harnessed to its full potential. For instance, social media can be used for more effective outreach with communities of need, and social media can help raise awareness of more issues. I have faith in humanity to do better.”
Q: Have you started considering any potential career fields?
A: “I want something that isn’t the same everyday, where I can work on all sorts of different projects. I used to want to be a clinical researcher, but now I am open to everything.”
Q: After participating in Scholars, what is your view about the research world?
A: “I think that the research world comes with challenges but if it is ethical, it is worth it. Honest research is important.”
Meet Varsha S. Veermachaneni, a motivated senior at Tesla STEM High School, a participant in Summer Scholars 2015, and our Scholar Spotlight for December. Veeramachaneni is currently in the midst of the college application process, where she plans on starting the Pre-Medicine track with the goal of becoming a doctor. Although still in high school, she has spent her summer taking a pre-calculus class at the University of Washington where she has met and connected with others that share her love for math. Along with math, Veeramachaneni is also passionate about learning and practicing various languages. She can currently read and write in five different languages, including English, Spanish, Hindi, Korean, and Telugu. Next on the horizon for Veeramachaneni is learning Japanese.
Q: Did participating in Summer Scholars help guide you towards a certain interest in social media research? A: “I was interested in social media research before Summer Scholars, but Summer Scholars did strengthen it. For the Washington State science fair, Jesse mentored me on a research project studying the influence of social media on happiness and stress levels with things like how many followers people have, and how many likes they receive.” Q: In general, what topics of study do you find most interesting? A: “I am really interested in prosthetics. In my junior year of high school at the Biomedical Engineering Lab, I researched shoulder prosthetics, which was really cool. We used 3D modeling software and a 3D printer to design our own shoulder prosthetic, with the advice of a shoulder surgeon from the University of Washington.” Q: After participating in Scholars, what is your view about the research world? A: “Research is so incredible. We need to do research before we take action for anything. We need to figure out the right problem before we can fix it with the right solution. With that being said, I cannot wait for my next research project.” Q: Who is the biggest inspiration in your life? A: “My parents are definitely my biggest inspiration. They both came from India and worked really hard to get to where they are today.”
Meet Margo Nanneman, a rising senior at Tesla STEM High School and a participant in our Summer Scholars Program in 2015. While staying involved in activities, such as Physics Club, Nanneman has also recently begun the college search. She hopes to attend a research-oriented school upon graduation, as continuing to stay involved with research is extremely important to her. However, Nanneman’s career path is not set in stone, as she wants to ensure she has a plethora of experiences before settling down on an area of study; although she has considered a few potential majors. Currently, neuroscience fascinates her because of the combination of psychology and biology, while still leaving her the option to enter the field of public health and/or research.
Q: Did participating in Summer Scholars help guide you towards a certain major, career path, or field of study?
A: “It definitely opened my eyes to the variety of different jobs available in research. I think that because I’ve been able to see how wide research is and the different topics you can do research on, that has been helpful in realizing there are different options and ways to help people and be part of public health.”
Q: After participating in Scholars, what is your view about the research world? Did your perspective change after being part of this program?
A: “After the first year of Scholars, I began this research project with a team from my school that we’re still working on now. We decided to build and test a device to aid in solar water disinfection in developing countries, and now we’re on to testing the device. We’re in contact with foundations and companies in places like Bolivia, and we’re trying to send them prototypes and trials of our device. We’ve done the whole research project and I thought back to Scholars – Scholars helped me understand that this is a research process, and making sure we get each step done.”
Q: What advice would you give to future Scholars?
A: “I would say to just explore as many opportunities as you can. Eventually, you’ll find something that you really click with.”
Over the past two years, the SMAHRTeam has hosted Summer Scholars, a program dedicated to helping high school students get involved in science. We are pleased to introduce our first Scholar Spotlight Danny Pham, participant in Summer Scholars 2015, who is also a member of our Youth Advisory Board, and served as a Scholars Alumni at our program this past summer. This fall, Pham will be starting his first year at the University of Washington Seattle, where he is currently planning on majoring in Applied Mathematics and Analytics. Being a highly motivated student with a passion for math, Pham is also dabbling with the idea of double majoring in Computer Science. His ultimate goal is to become a data analyst after college, while also wanting to keep his career and studies closely connected with research.
Q: Who is the biggest inspiration in your life? Why or how does this person inspire you? A: “I would say my Grandpa. Along with the rest of my family, he really pushed education and helped me stay on track with my studies. He made me excited to learn.”
Q: What is one career oriented goal you would like to accomplish in your lifetime? A: “I want to do research somewhere, either has an intern or a director. I am not sure what kind yet, but I want to research something that will be helpful for society”
Q: Did participating in Summer Scholars help guide you towards a certain major, career path, or field of study? If so, how and why? A: “When I first participated in 2015, there was a panel that included a data analyst, who collected data for the research projects and created graphs and other visuals for the team. I found this very appealing and it gave me a better sense of what I wanted to go in to.”
Q: What advice would you give to future scholars? A: “Enjoy and learn as much as you can! There is not much research exposure in high school, so absorb as much information as you can. Even if you are not interested in research, you are still able to learn new things and enjoy the experience. But, if you are interested in research, keep pursuing it beyond the program!”