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Vol. LXIII, No. 19
September 16, 2011
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Field Trip to Their Future
NIH Women Scientists Host Students in Leadership Program

Visitors from all over the world take guided tours of NIH every month, but a group of high school students from the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS) recently explored not only the NIH campus, but also its daily world of research and science. Drs. Patricia Becerra, Mary Frances Cotch, Myra Derbyshire and Maria Morasso of the NIH women scientist advisors committee spearheaded this unique field trip.

Dr. Julia Drake (r) leads a tour of a surgical suite for a group of high school students from the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS). NIH PALS group includes (from l) Michelle Datiles (FSCA), Shirley Anghel (PALS), Dr. Mary Frances Cotch (NEI) and (second from r) Alicia McCord (NEI).
Dr. Julia Drake (r) leads a tour of a surgical suite for a group of high school students from the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS).

NIH PALS group includes (from l) Michelle Datiles (FSCA), Shirley Anghel (PALS), Dr. Mary Frances Cotch (NEI) and (second from r) Alicia McCord (NEI).

“The NIH women scientist advisors committee wanted to develop an outreach initiative to introduce high school girls to NIH,” explained Becerra. “We approached the Foundation for Social and Cultural Advancement, which led us to develop a field trip experience for teenage girls participating in its Washington, D.C. Program for Academic and Leadership Skills.”

Foundation SCA is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that partners with institutions around the world to help girls and women live with dignity and build brighter futures for themselves, their families and their communities. For the past 3 years, FSCA has joined with PALS’s umbrella organization, the Youth Leadership Foundation, which serves disadvantaged youth in D.C. by boosting academic performance while developing character and strong morals.

NIH scientists (from l) Drs. Myra Derbyshire, Maria Morasso and Patricia Becerra were among those who spearheaded the PALS field trip.

NIH scientists (from l) Drs. Myra Derbyshire, Maria Morasso and Patricia Becerra were among those who spearheaded the PALS field trip.

Photos: Jasmine Whiting

The PALS field trip was an appealing opportunity for the young women. Cotch explained, “We wanted to expose the girls to a variety of activities to give them a broad perspective of NIH’s mission in science and health and to make it a fun, memorable experience for them.”

The students were given an overview of NIH, the health and medical research being done and the wide array of non-science work within the institutes by Sheria Washington of the NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL). On their tour, the students met several scientists, including Drs. Jessica Bermudez and Gail Seabold, who spoke about their own backgrounds, offered education and career advice and described their research.

Participants also enjoyed an introduction to genetics with a hands-on exercise extracting DNA from strawberries with Dr. Carla Easter. Donning scrubs, the students toured labs with Drs. Julia Drake, James Pickle and Ginger Tansey. The day ended with a tour of the Clinical Center with OCPL’s Tara Mowery.

“At the end of the field trip, the girls were amazed at the many career options at NIH,” said Cotch.

Each PALS student received a souvenir bag with science education information, health pamphlets and a primer on women’s health. In addition to offering the keepsakes, organizers hope the field trip encourages the youngsters to work hard and perhaps pursue a career in the health professions.


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