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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

HiSTEP Alumnus Offers Testimony

Hiwot Lema at NIH Summer Poster Day in 2016

Hiwot Lema at NIH Summer Poster Day in 2016

Photo: Natasha Lugo-Escobar

Hiwot Lema is an alumnus of the first HiSTEP class in 2015. Lema, who has always wanted to be a doctor, first heard about the program through her high school AP biology teacher, who also worked at NIH.

“Coming to NIH and being at a place where you’re manipulating the mechanisms of your body and solving problems really opened my eyes,” Lema said. “I wasn’t just learning what naturally happens. I was learning what doesn’t usually happen and how we’re trying to fix that. It was bringing the books to life, and it really fascinated me.”

Lema completed her HiSTEP program and throughout senior year stayed in touch with program directors Dr. Sharolyn Kawakami-Schulz and Dr. Natasha Lugo-Escobar, who continued to advise her as she applied for colleges. That year, she was accepted to the University of Maryland. 

Lema subsequently returned for a second year at NIH, as part of a program called HiSTEP 2.0. Through version 2.0, OITE prepares students for life in college, giving each youngster an opportunity to work in labs while teaching them about the importance of wellness, time management and stress management on campus.

Lema also met her college roommate at the first HiSTEP.

“I feel like I’ve met a lot of lifelong friends,” she said. “We came from the same backgrounds, and I definitely met a lot of people that I can relate to not only academically but socially as well.”

After spending two rigorous high school summers at NIH, Lema came back for her third year, this time having been selected for the highly competitive NCI summer internship program.
“I really like doing research. I never thought I would. I thought I would be more clinical, but I don’t know, it just opened my life to impact human lives in other ways,” Lema said. “NIH is the medicine of tomorrow, and people come here when they have no other options. It’s very exciting for me.”

The 2017 HiSTEP program concluded Aug. 10, with a Poster Day where students presented the lessons and experiments they found most impressive.

For a video of the HiSTEP program, visit

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