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High School Scholars share love of science

Joshua Sohmer of Steele Canyon High, Brandon Cooper of Patrick Henry High, mentor April Goebl, Maegan Ledwith of Chapparal High, Samantha Hartogs of Canyon Crest Academy,
Maria Marcelo of King-Chavez Community High, Ellen Potter, director of Education Outreach, and mentor Amy Rommel

From left to right: Joshua Sohmer of Steele Canyon High, Brandon Cooper of Patrick Henry High, mentor April Goebl, Maegan Ledwith of Chapparal High, Samantha Hartogs of Canyon Crest Academy, Maria Marcelo of King-Chavez Community High, Ellen Potter, director of Education Outreach, and mentor Amy Rommel.

When Maria Marcelo was nine years old, her grandmother died and the doctors didn’t know why. In what proved a pivotal moment in her young life, she decided to become informed in order to aid other people who, like her, might feel helpless when family members were facing health crises.

Maria Marcelo

"I learned to love science. I learned that I am strong and smart enough, and I discovered myself as a scientist." — Maria Marcelo

Today, Maria is poised to become the first in her family to graduate from high school and go on to higher education. And when she applies to colleges this year, she’ll have a special qualification on her resume: a summer spent in a Salk Institute laboratory through the High School Scholars Program. Maria, whose biology teacher convinced her that she had what it took to succeed in the program, was so motivated that she commuted two hours on public transportation to come to the Salk Institute every day. As a student from a small downtown San Diego high school, she admits that she originally felt like an underdog who didn’t belong in the program. But by the end of eight weeks, which included mentoring by Amy Rommel, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Inder Verma, she says, “I learned to love science. I learned that I am strong and smart enough, and I discovered myself as a scientist.”

Salk Education Outreach presentation

Maria was one of ten students who presented their research projects to a packed audience in the Trustees’ Room on August 14. Each had spent most of the summer working in a Salk lab, under the mentorship of a Salk scientist, and the event was the culmination of their work. Following welcoming remarks by Ellen Potter, director of the Salk’s Education Outreach program, and Dona Mapston, education specialist, the students took turns at the podium, using PowerPoint slides and their own experiences to explain their highly technical research projects to their families, friends, teachers, Salk staff and lab colleagues. For many, the High School Scholars Program was transformative and has sent them down a new educational and career path.

The event was an inspirational reminder that the Salk’s mission is as much about motivating and educating future scientists as it is about making the discoveries that will advance human health.