Dr. Edmarie Guzmán Vélez

Dr. Edmarie Guzmán Vélez stressed the importance of connecting students with experts in their fields of interest. >Courtesy

A group of Puerto Rican high school students will be able to learn about different aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, as well as the university admission process, at a new summer internship organized by Puerto Rican scientists Héctor De Jesús and Edmarie Guzmán Vélez.

Twenty students from public and private schools will be selected among hundreds of applicants to take on a four-week internship at the Sacred Heart University (Sagrado Corazón) in San Juan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The initiative, called the Sagrado-MIT Neuroscience Pre-College Program, aims to expose the island’s youth to the vast opportunities and resources available to the scientists of tomorrow.

In June, the group of students will spend the first two weeks of the program at Sacred Heart’s facilities learning about the diverse career options in STEM, with emphasis on neuroscience. They will then spend the remaining two weeks at MIT’s dorms, where they will meet scientists and professors from various distinguished universities—such as Harvard and Boston universities—and attend university panels and other seminars on how to apply for admission and financial aid.

“Many students don’t request [admission] because they think that they can’t afford it, and sometimes there are plenty of resources available for those students,” said De Jesús, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT.

Guzmán Vélez, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, added that each participant will be paired with a mentor who will continue to guide the student through the whole process of finding the right undergraduate program and university.

“Our goal is for that person to enter the university of their choosing so that they can have a successful career in science. We know from personal experience how important and crucial mentors are,” Guzmán Vélez told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.

Moreover, the program will be completely gratuitous for participants. Through a collaboration with the P.R. Department of Education and donations, the internship will cover expenses for lodging, travel and food. The students will be accompanied by a minimum of four chaperones, De Jesús, Guzmán Vélez and the Science director from the local Education Department.

“Because our goal from the beginning was to make science accessible to every student, regardless of their background or financial situation, we strived to obtain funding to make this program free for students who do not have the financial resources to pay for it,” Guzmán Vélez explained.

A total 526 students applied to the internship program, with the request period having ended on March 2 at 11:59 p.m. Applicants will be considered if they have a 3.00 grade point average (GPA) on a 4.00 scale and if they are enrolled in 9th, 10th or 11th grade. Students were required to submit a one-page essay explaining why they are interested in the program, what situation has challenged them and their career ambitions. Applicants also had to submit two recommendation letters. The 20 winners will be revealed next week.

“I have been meeting with the admissions groups here at MIT and a program like this can change a student’s life because it exposes them to opportunities they are not usually exposed to,” De Jesús stated. He added that he hopes this initiative will inspire similar programs and more collaborations between local and stateside universities.

De Jesús and Guzmán Vélez said that they expect to transform the internship into an annual event and as such, they are accepting donations so they may take in more students and continue the program. For donations, visit https://sagradoglobal.lpages.co/sagrado-mit/.

“Apart from learning about specific things such as which activities they must do to enter the institution they choose, the program will impact these students in a way that goes beyond that. For example, the students will meet many Puerto Rican students and researchers—undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professors—and I think there is something very powerful in knowing a person one identifies with because they will think ‘if that person did it, then so can I,’” Guzmán Vélez said.

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