Summer Internships Help Minority Students Start on Career Path in Biomedical Research
Jules Jefferson, 19, is a 2021 BRIMS scholar. She has been working in the lab of Russell Ware, MD/PhD, studying hematology. After she graduates from Miami University, she would like to pursue a MD and a PhD with a focus on pediatrics.
“Of the 49 alumni tracked from 2010 through 2017 that were scheduled to graduate from college in 2020, 100 percent have graduated.”
Since a young age, Jules Jefferson, 19, knew she wanted to be a doctor.
“I think what drew me to medicine was that it allows you to connect with people in a way that you can help them and also make a difference,” Jefferson said.
While a high school student at Mount Notre Dame in Reading last year, the teen was urged to apply to Cincinnati Children’s Biomedical Research Internship for Minority Students (BRIMS) program by her AP biology teacher.
“The BRIMS program exposed me to the research side and made me think about getting my PhD as well as my MD,” Jefferson said. “But the one thing that was very attractive to me about the program as an African American was the focus on minorities.”
Cincinnati Children’s launched the BRIMS program in 2010 after recognizing the need to build a pipeline of minorities in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Cindy Bachurski, PhD, is the director and created the internship program.
“I was a first-generation student,” Bachurski said. “Neither of my parents graduated high school. I know how hard it is when you don’t have any help from family to guide your education. A program like BRIMS mentors the students through the whole process.”
The program is open to high-achieving high school seniors and college freshmen from Greater Cincinnati. The young scientists work as full-time, paid research assistants, guided by mentors from the Cincinnati Children’s faculty. Over a nine-week period, they learn basic research skills and gain valuable work experience. They also learn about career choices available in medicine or research.
Scholars participate in weekly networking/diversity luncheons, shadowing opportunities with minority faculty across the medical center, and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) enrichment activities, including workshops on scientific writing, research ethics, biostatistics and experimental design, networking and professional development, and a lecture series.
Like the SURF program, the long-term goal is to develop the next generation of minority biomedical researchers who will generate the discoveries of the future to help improve the outcome of children.
The program started in 2010 with five participants. The 2021 class has 14 students. The BRIMS program is sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs and Career Development at Cincinnati Children's. A generous endowment from the 5/3 Bank Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund allowed significant expansion of the program.
“I am very proud of what these students have been able to accomplish after they leave the BRIMS program,” Bachurski said. “Of the 49 alumni tracked from 2010 through 2017 that were scheduled to graduate from college in 2020, 100 percent have graduated. Over 90 percent of alumni are pursuing STEM careers, including 14 MD, four PhD and two MD/PhD students.”
Cindy Bachurski, PhD, started the BRIMS program in 2010. She retired at the end of July after working 29 years at Cincinnati Children's.
Pablo Alarcon, 25, went through the BRIMS program in 2013. The Lakota West graduate completed his undergraduate degree in microbiology with a minor in history at Ohio State University. He is now studying at the University of Cincinnati in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), a multi-institutional MD/PhD program supported by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s.
After Pablo Alarcon, 25, went through the BRIMS program in 2013, the Lakota West graduate completed his undergraduate degree in microbiology with a minor in history at Ohio State University. He is now studying at the University of Cincinnati in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), a multi-institutional MD/PhD program supported by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s.
“BRIMS gave me a wonderful foundation to what science is really like, and I think that is the key to it being such a successful program,” Alarcon said.
While a BRIMS participant working in an immunology lab, he studied inflammation and intestinal parasites. Currently, Alarcon is studying influenza and the impact that obesity has on the immune system at Cincinnati Children’s in the lab of Senad Divanovic, PhD. He hopes to pursue his residency in infectious disease with a focus on global health.
“My parents, sister, and I moved to the United States from Peru when I was 6 years old,” Alarcon said. “I think it’s huge to look at someone that looks like you and realize that I can pursue a career in this field as well, whether it be in medicine or research, or both.”
Bachurski still keeps in touch with Alarcon and other BRIMS participants through LinkedIn. This is her last year as director of the program because she retired at the end of July after 29 years at the medical center.
“I'm going to miss seeing the students every day and seeing them mature,” Bachurski said. “It's really been fun to see how they go from a very young, timid student to somebody who really knows what they're doing. They hold themselves differently, and they can discuss their research. Even though I will be retired from Cincinnati Children’s, I’ll continue to check in with them.”
Jefferson has several weeks left working in the lab of Russell Ware, MD, PhD, studying hematology. After she graduates from Miami University, she would like to pursue an MD and a PhD with a focus on pediatrics.
“I don’t think I would be where I am if people hadn’t invested in me, so my goal one day is to give back,” Jefferson said. “I definitely want to give back and help other minority students.”
If you would like more information about BRIMS, go to https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/education/research/high-school/biomedical-research-internship-minority.
“BRIMS gave me a wonderful foundation to what science is really like, and I think that is the key to it being such a successful program."