The Young Innovators Class of 2017

The Young Innovators Program, the Eshelman Institute of Innovation’s immersive research experiential program for high school students, has been awarded the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Student Science Enrichment Program Award of $180,000 over three years. The SSEP’s primary goal is to enable high school students to participate in creative, hands-on scientific activities and pursue inquiry-based exploration in BWF’s home state of North Carolina.

YIP was launched in 2016 as part of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s effort to broaden its outreach and diversity. During each summer, student interns participate in cutting edge research projects in leading labs at the School , attend professional development panels, tour biotechnology companies and clinics at UNC Hospitals and perform problem-solving activities. In addition to faculty and graduate student mentors, participants are also matched with Pharm.D. students and a clinical mentor. At the end of the summer, participants give presentations outlining what they did and learned. YIP recently completed its second cohort

Sam Lai, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and principal investigator of the BWF grant, said a substantial portion of the funds will go toward directly supporting under-represented minority students from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“There is an underappreciated role that professional schools, particularly schools of pharmacy, can take in enhancing STEM participation by precollege students,” Lai said. “The BWF SSEP program provides critical support to help us overcome some of the financial hurdles that have historically prevented some students from pursuing experiential science, technology, engineering and math programs like YIP.”

Mary Roth McClurg, Pharm.D., M.H.S., an associate professor at the School and associate director of academic innovation at the UNC Eshelman Institute for Innovation, said the award goes a long way in helping the School enhance the YIP program and extend its outreach.

“The YIP program has become a highly valued program among faculty, students, and high school interns, and we are grateful to receive this award,” McClurg said.

Lai said the grant is exciting and will be a big help as the program pursues its goals, but there is always a need for sustained funding. A recently published manuscript showed that the inaugural YIP participants were more interested and aware of STEM careers and more confident in their own STEM abilities after completing the experiential learning program. Specifically, students said that they were challenged by their faculty preceptors and highly valued having role models in science.

“We’re seeing real results from this program,” Lai said. “Funding like this grant from BWF makes a big difference to us as we keep learning and growing and helping more students.”

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