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NextGeneration of STEM Professionals

Credit: iStock

Armand Jackson

Twelve high school interns spent five weeks of their summer shadowing Emory University researchers and genetic counselors in Emory School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics. Most of them commuted from their homes in the Atlanta area, while two stayed in dorm rooms on Emory’s Clairmont campus. The paid internship program they all took part in is called NextGen which was offered for the first time this summer and rewarded each intern with $2000. NextGen focuses on historically underrepresented minorities; the group this year consisted of 11 African American students and one Latina, among this demographic were 11 female students and one male student. A department committee chose the 12 NextGen interns from a group of more than 50 applicants. 

Interns through the program were matched with scientists and labs that corresponded to their career goals, which spanned a wide range of fields like biology, neurosurgery, and nursing to name a few. Emory geneticist Emily Allen organized the interns’ daily activities, which included time with researchers, lectures on biology and genetics, and field trips to places like Emory National Primate Research Center and Microsoft Technology Center. The NextGen interns presented their research or a biomedical topic of their choice at a July 7 symposium, at which time Allen said: “The 12 students who were here were just amazing.” 

Human genetics department chair Peng Jin even said “The NextGen program went so well that in the future, we’d like to explore whether we can offer it to high school students from across the country.” The NextGen High School Internship Program is Emory University Department of Human Genetics’ solution to the lack of ethnic, cultural, and experiential diversity in STEM careers. Those who run the intern program understand that due to socioeconomic status, there is a large gap of students in an underrepresented group who do not pursue a career in STEM or are not exposed to the same level of STEM education in their schools as others. 

To address this problem, NextGen participants attend lectures for general information but are also paired with mentors to allow them to have hands-on experience in both a lab and clinical setting in order to have extensive knowledge and perspectives covered throughout the duration of the internship program. This program was supported by the Avantor Foundation and department funding. The goal of the Avantor Foundation is to advance science education and provide health care access to people in underserved communities. 

2022’s NextGen program may have ended but Emory University’s Department of Human Genetics intends to offer the program again in 2023. So any rising junior or senior high school students, who are parent/guardian of one, who are interested in NextGen make sure to visit in order to find out more about the program, see if you meet the criteria, and keep up with important dates.