Sixteen-year-old Brian Garcia looks right at home at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
Sixteen-year-old Brian Garcia looks right at home at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

Like many 16-year-olds, Brian Garcia is making his postsecondary education plans.

To find out more about his options in the sciences, Garcia signed up for a summer biology institute operated by students at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston in conjunction with Project Grad.

“I heard about the program at the YMCA,” said Garcia, who participates in the YMCA Achiever’s program. “It was a great way to expose ourselves to college material.”

Formally called the Favrot Fund Advanced Biology College Institute, it gives high school students an opportunity to learn more about their college and career options. Twenty-two students enrolled in the July 20-31 institute.

Project GRAD was founded more than 25 years ago and helps students in underserved communities.  To date, more than 6,700 students have graduated from high school and enrolled in college after completing the program.

The students’ action-packed agenda included tours of the Memorial Hermann Life Flight facilities as well as state-of-the-art laboratories where scientists are fighting disease at the molecular level.

Of course, tests are part of college and the students received one on biology concepts and career readiness on day one. Tests are re-administered at the conclusion of the institute. If their scores are anything like last year’s group, they will have learned a lot.

Graduate School volunteers include Marimar De La Cruz Bonilla, who hails from Puerto Rico and is enrolled in the school’s M.D./Ph.D. program also known as the “double doc” program.

“When you are in high school, you are very curious about what you are going to do with the rest of life. And, you don’t necessarily get the opportunity at school to see the world. Project GRAD gives students a firsthand opportunity to see what scientists do,” she said.

“It’s the best way to get your questions answered and to be in control of your future,” added De La Cruz Bonilla, who is training to become a pediatrician.

Volunteer Amanda Herrmann is also an M.D., Ph.D., student at the Graduate School.

“They’re learning about physiology and taking their own blood pressure and their own heart rate. They do a lot of different activities and it’s a new activity every day,” Herrmann said.

“One of the most gratifying things that comes out of this institute is that a lot of students come in here knowing they like science but aren’t sure how to start a career in science or pursue it any further than high school. And, a lot of the students at the end of the two weeks have a career path,” she said.

“They know that they want to be a dental hygienist or go into medicine or want to be a research scientist. Their career paths are more defined by the end of the two weeks. With a goal in mind, it’s a lot easier to pursue a career,” she said.

“I wish they would have had a program like this where I grew up. I would have participated,” Herrmann said.

So why does Herrmann like science? “It’s a different thing every day. You’re always looking for something new that no one has ever experienced.”

The institute motivates students to pursue their dream of higher education while exposing them to potential careers in the health industry, said Ann B. Stiles, Ed.D., Project GRAD President and CEO.

“Many will be first-generation college students when they enroll in college,” she said.

Here are some quick Project GRAD stats:

  • Approximately 60 percent of GRAD scholars are completing college.
  • More than 700 high school students participated in GRAD College Institutes in 2014.
  • More than 1,900 Project GRAD Scholars have graduated from college.

The Graduate School is operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. More than 2,000 scientists have received their training at the Graduate School.

-Rob Cahill, Office of Public Affairs