NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NCI at Frederick Internship Program Wins Presidential Honor

An intern works on a lab experiment with a mentor.
Mentor and mentee work together on a project with a GeneAmp PCR System 9700.

The National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., has won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Mentoring for its Werner H. Kirsten Student Internship Program.

Now 30 years old, the Kirsten program each year brings to NCI’s Frederick campus a cadre of high school students, who spend a summer, followed by their senior year, working in government and contractor laboratories and offices. A hallmark of the program, NCI’s only year-long immersion opportunity for high schoolers, is the close involvement of mentors, who work one-on-one with students to develop their research, analytical and writing skills. 

More than 1,200 students have gone through the Kirsten program, which also includes discussions, seminars, poster presentations and journal clubs. 

More than 80 percent of Kirsten graduates, the majority of whom are women, have continued onto careers in STEM fields, and 100 percent of Kirsten graduates completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with many pursuing higher academic achievements.

The award, which is administered by the National Science Foundation, “recognizes the critical role mentors play outside the traditional classroom setting in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce,” said the White House announcement.

In their comments, the award review panel cited “the efforts of this program to effect change in the community” and the “scope and capacity of this program to create impact on a national level” in giving the program its highest marks of excellence.

The internship program is named for Dr. Werner H. Kirsten, who served as associate director of the NCI at Frederick in the 1980s and 1990s. 

“It truly is the mentors who are the heart and soul of the Kirsten program,” said program manager Marsha Nelson Duncan. “They generously offer our students some of the most precious commodities: their time, their wisdom and their guidance. Several generations of students are the better for it.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kirsten program is at present on hiatus, save for a handful of students working remotely. Thanks to the continuing commitment of so many mentors, its return will be eagerly anticipated by the program’s mentors, as well as Kirsten students and the partner school systems.

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