Internship programs expand as experts worry over future work force

July 8, 2008

By hammersmith

[Source: Phoenix Business Journal, Angela Gonzales] – Bioscience internships slowly are taking a foothold in Arizona’s fledgling life sciences industry, as schools and hospitals work together to give a practical experience to tomorrow’s work force.

Arizona State University is beginning its third summer, inviting 26 high school students to its Biodesign Institute. It has grown from 18 students last year.

There aren’t enough spots for these scientific minds, since more than 140 students applied for the 26 spots.

“These students who applied for these programs tend to be very top students — valedictorians; fantastic kids,” said Rick Fisher, who last year was named director of education and outreach programs at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

In its seventh year of providing internships for 18 students a summer, Sun Health is looking for funding to expand its internship program to add more students. Existing funding comes from donations.

Applications come from all over the nation, including students at Yale and Harvard universities, said Brian Browne, director of education and community relations for Sun Health. Browne said he is seeing fewer students opting for math, science and health careers.

Home-grown scientists needed

“We’re seeing a large increase in foreign-born scientists and health care professionals,” he said. “This increase is alarming because we are not preparing the next generation of home-grown scientists and other professionals. We’re having a harder time attracting students to go into the fields like science and technology.”

Sun Health partners with two West Valley high school districts — Dysart and Agua Fria — to give students a glimpse of health care careers.

“For example, students are going to be exposed to careers of what a scientist does,” Browne said. “It’s my job to expose students to all of these careers and give them information on what they can be in the fields of science, technology and health care.”

The Apple A Day Program not only provides tours of Sun Health’s two hospitals and research institute, but it also takes health care professionals into the classrooms, where they talk about how real life — such as steroids or drug addiction — is rooted in science.

“We’re hoping to pique their curiosity so they want to learn more and potentially go into a field like that,” he said.

Browne said he hopes to get more funding to expand the Apple A Day program to other local school districts.

University of Arizona in Tucson also wants students to get excited about careers in biosciences, tripling its internship program to 28 students this summer with a $28,000 budget.

First-generation students

Kevin Hall, director of research, training and career development at UA’s BIO5 Institute in Tucson, is making a big effort to reach out to economically disadvantaged students, to give them a chance at these competitive internship spots.

Sixty percent of students this summer are coming from the underserved population, and many are first-generation college students, Hall said. Students receive an $800 stipend for their work during the summer; enticing those who may need to earn money during the summer but who don’t want to miss out on training.

“I would like to double it again next year,” Hall said.

While universities and hospitals work to beef up their internship programs, the Translational Genomics Research Institute in January received a whopping $6.5 million from the Helios Education Foundation to start its own internship program.

Last year, Helios gave TGen $383,000 to pilot the internship program, followed by the $6.5 million over the next 25 years.

Candice Nulsen, program manager for education and outreach at TGen, said this summer will be its first official year, kicking off with 45 scholars for an eight-week session.

“From TGen’s perspective, part of our strategic partnership with Helios is not only to give fantastic opportunities to students but to help grow and maintain the brain trust here in Arizona,” Nulsen said.

The students accepted into the program are a mix of high school, undergraduate and a few graduate-level students.

Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, said he hopes the Helios Scholars Program at TGen will attract more students to the biosciences.

“We hope to be incubating the future scientists in Arizona by investing in this program,” he said.