Helios Scholars Program

More from this show

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN) is offering students a chance to work in the field of biomedical research this summer. Brandy Wells, education and outreach specialist, discusses the program.

Jose Cardenas: The Translational Genomics Institute known as TGEN offers a unique program for students to experience a summer of real world science. Here to talk about this opportunity is Brandy Wells, TGEN education and outreach specialist. Welcome to "Horizonte."

Brandy Wells: Thank you for having me Jose.

Jose Cardenas: And I should mention that I have an affiliation with TGEN, I serve on their board of directors. This is a special program that started about four years ago?

Brandy Wells: We are in our fourth year of the program. We originally started out with a pilot program hoping to see where it would go, and it's been wonderful. So we're flourishing. It's actually part of a 25-year grant from the Helios Education Foundation. So we're early on in the program, but we're getting there.

Jose Cardenas: And what was Helios's purpose in -- establishing this?

Brandy Wells: TGEN's mission in education outreach is to grow the talent pipeline in bioscience in the state of Arizona. And also to educate the general public on bioscience, so they're literate in the sciences as well. And the Helios education foundation has a mission to offer opportunities and post-secondary education to young people. So we thought we would combine both of our missions to basically create a partnership that would offer opportunities to young Arizona students to take part in authentic translational research.

Jose Cardenas: So they get to work at TGEN, they also get paid, right?

Brandy Wells: They do. That's one of the assets of the program, is that we're able to provide a stipend for full-time work for our students that enter the program. So we don't lose them to retail positions where they may need to make money for the summer. They can actually make their summer money while having an academic experience working in the laboratories and cutting edge technology here at TGEN.

Jose Cardenas: How many students in the program typically?

Brandy Wells: We take 45 students each summer. Nine of those are usually high school students, the majority of the program is undergraduates from Universities, community colleges, etc. And we have about five graduate or medical level students as well.

Jose Cardenas: And how are they selected?

Brandy Wells: Our selection process essentially includes an application where students kind of introduce themselves through a personal statement, tell us who they are, why they want to be involved in research, what piques their interest, and we also have them collect two letters of recommendation from people who know them in a professional level, educators, religious leaders, coaches, whomever. And once those students have submitted that information to us, we take a look at them through a group, our selection committee to kind of narrow down the applicant pool and then ultimately how we decide who gets into the program is through interviews with the actual mentors themselves. So they go through their applicant pool and they look for standout students, they think might have a genuine authentic curiosity to be involved in this kind of work. And give them a call, see if they're a match and bring them on.

Jose Cardenas: So these are the scientists at TGEN who make the final decision?

Brandy Wells: Yes. Final decisions are made by every mentor themselves.

Jose Cardenas: And then can you describe what a typical experience might be of a student selected by a particular scientist? What would their experience be like?

Brandy Wells: Well, they first and foremost they have eight full-time weeks paid full-time weeks working in TGEN laboratories. So they learn the authentic skills. They learn the research skills that one of our scientists are doing. We don't hire our interns as lab techs, that clean glass ware or something. They do the work their mentors are doing. So they learn those skills of translational science, they do genomic sequencing, they work on cancer, autism, Alzheimer's, the entire array of diseases and disorders that TGEN works on. One part we've also embedded in the program and feel pretty strongly about is the career development aspect of this. Young people enter science and if they leave with just technical skills, they aren't leaving as a whole scientist. We want to well round the people that leave this program with professionalism are and public speaking skills. So that they can communicate their science to the general public, be ambassadors for translational research and bioscience in the state. We provide them with business etiquette training, career diversity workshops so they can see that it's not just lab work. There's a million other ways you can get involved in science and have that experience with the science, but not necessarily be in the lab.

Jose Cardenas: And some of these are things that are new to the program this year, right?

Brandy Wells: Yes. We're slowly over time improving and refining the career development aspect of this. We want to stay current with what students need to know to be competitive. So when they leave the program, the idea is that they will become the next generation of researchers in the state of Arizona, and even outside the state of Arizona. But again, we're trying to organically grow the population here so that we have the talent here. But yeah, that's pretty much the main --

Jose Cardenas: And we've got the website address on the screen.

Brandy Wells: OK.

Jose Cardenas: Students going there and apply. Is there a deadline?

Brandy Wells: Yes. The applications are open now, they'll open every January for every coming summer. And the deadline is March 4th for this summer. So they are open, and we are collecting them. And once the deadline approaches, we will then start the selection process and make sure we're looking for those strong students with a genuine interest in stuff like bioscience.

Jose Cardenas: When do students find out they've been selected?

Brandy Wells: App 25th is the -- final notification date. So at some point we have given students notification before that, but no matter what, no matter how far you've gone in the process, we tell you yes or no you've entered the program by the end of April, early May.

Jose Cardenas: Now, I know from my experience on the board that there have been some remarkable success stories. Give us some examples of what you've seen since you've been involved in the program.

Brandy Wells: I've seen students earn Goldwater scholarships for math and science which are coveted scholarships. We had one student who won a full ride to Arizona State University coming from one of the community colleges because of -- partly because of her work at TGEN and the Helios Scholars Program. We've had students recognized in the Who's Who of undergraduate students nationally. They're consistently winning awards, they're consistently succeeding. One of our students actually began their own small foundation to help nonprofits with graphics and media as well. So they're inspired by that diversity in the bioscience careers approach to even go out and start their own projects to help organizations and scientists.

Jose Cardenas: So pretty remarkable program with remarkable students.

Brandy Wells: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you so much. We're out of time. I apologize, but thank you so much for coming on "Horizonte" to talk about the TGEN program it.

Brandy Wells: Oh it was wonderful. Thank you for having me.

Jose Cardenas: Our pleasure.

Brandy Wells:Education and Outreach Specialist, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen);

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: