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Wheaton Students Visit NIH Lab

Job shadowing program will bring two students a month to the National Human Genomics Institute in Twinbrook.

Students from Wheaton High School interested in science will have the chance to visit the National Institutes of Health's Human Geonomics Institute in Twinbrook, as part of a job shadowing program. Organized by Heather Carias , the academy coordinator at Wheaton High and science education coordinator Dr. Carla Easter at the NIH, the work shadowing program will bring two students from Wheaton each month for a two hour visit to the center.

The first students, Ashmina Shilpakar and Michael Carranza, visited the Institute Tuesday morning, touring separate areas of the lab – the molecular biology department which works in the production lab and bioinformatics, which analyzes the data from the genes. These two tracks make up the majority of the work at the Genomics Institute.

"It was more laid back than I thought," said Michael Carranza, a senior at Wheaton who's interested in going into a medical profession. Carranza said that he understood a little about what scientists in the production lab were doing from his own classes, like working with gel electrophoresis.

Shilpakar, a junior, is interested in pediatrics as a possible career option, and spent the morning in the bioinformatics department.

"This is going to be part of their career," Carias said, adding that it was important showing students the work that could create break-through in their lifetime.

The program is still in the pilot stage, and a limited number of students will be able to visit this semester, so students applied with an explanation of why and how they were interested in science.

"Most importantly is their interest in science – we asked them why they'd like to see center and what they're interested in." Dr. Easter said

At the end of the semester, students that participated in the shadowing will meet up and discuss their experiences, helped by a reflective essay written shortly after the experience.

While the program is still in the beginning stages, Dr. Easter is excited about students getting to see a unique facility and think about careers in genomics and other science and medical professions.

"This a big deal," she said, "It's one of the very few sequencing centers in the country."

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