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PSI: A commitment to mentoring

“In this Google-search world it is very important to teach the importance of going to the primary literature.”

PSIAn OHSU-led opportunity for high school students to understand the value and importance of primary literature and develop their own research proposals is attracting record interest in Portland’s Partnership for Scientific Inquiry (PSI) program. “There were so many applications in 2010 that we had to ask the freshman applicants to defer a year,” said Tammy Martin, PhD, who co-directs the program with Edward Neuwelt, MD, James Rosenbaum, MD, Richard Rosenbaum, MD, Kendra Farris, MD and Leslie Muldoon, PhD. Seventy students arrived on the first day, with 50 completing the semester-long course and receiving high-school credit. In the past three years nearly 150 students have completed the classroom course, with almost 100 advancing to work on summer research projects at OHSU.

“I don’t know of another program that is as effective, certainly in its unique outreach to high school students,” said John Brigande, PhD, who has served as a volunteer faculty mentor in the program since 2003. “In this Google-search world it is very important to teach the importance of going to the primary literature. This is as authentic a preparation for undergraduate and graduate research as you could hope to have.”

Patreece Suen enrolled in the program during her junior year at Tualatin High School. She and her fellow students spent the first half of the course attending weekly lectures, presenting articles in journal club format and completing writing assignments. Patreece’s second writing assignment – a discussion of the relevance of Mendelian genetics in a technically-advanced world – won second place in an American Society of Human Genetics DNA Day essay competition that attracted 600 entries nationwide. “I knew then that I could have a career in science,” she said.

PSI students complete the course under the guidance of volunteer faculty mentors, who present their work to the students as part of the didactic component. Following a presentation by Dr. Brigande, Patreece knew she had found her mentor. “I rushed to the computer to request him,” she said.

Patreece completed two course assignments under Dr. Brigande’s mentorship and then joined his lab for the summer, conducting research using in situ hybridization and attending joint lab meetings. “The opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art facility with a PhD professor was a distant dream for me,” she said. “I’ve now learned to think critically and act independently.”

“We feel it’s important to add to what students are learning in the regular school curriculum,” said Dr. Martin. “This could not happen without the incredible contributions of our faculty mentors.”

Patreece Suen agrees. “The professors treat us like scientists,” she said. “They give us a huge gift by providing this course, and their commitment to helping us experience science at this level while we are still in high school is extraordinary.”

To learn more about PSI, or to volunteer as a faculty mentor, contact Dr. Tammy Martin.

Particulars: John Brigande, PhD is Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head/Neck Surgery; Kendra Farris, MD, is affiliated with the Department of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics at Legacy Emanuel, Portland, Ore.; Tammy Martin, PhD, is Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology; Leslie Muldoon, PhD, is Associate Professor, Department of Neurology; Edward Neuwelt, MD is Professor, Department of Neurology; James Rosenbaum, MD, is Professor, Department of Ophthalmology; and Richard Rosenbaum, MD, is Affiliate Professor, Department of Neurology.

UPDATE: As this article was published, we learned that Patreece Suen has been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 2011. Congratulations, Patreece!

Pictured: Dr. Richard Rosenbaum in full flow during a PSI teaching seminar.

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