When Cheyney University senior Amber Young first heard about the new STEM program, she immediately thought it would be the perfect opportunity for her to be introduced to research work and participate in a lab setting.

“I’m studying to be an adolescent psychiatrist and in that career path you’re always doing a lot of research,” Young said.

“I haven’t really had that much experience with the research component, so I thought this program would be the perfect opportunity for me to be introduced to research and take advantage of the lab setting.”

Young, 22, is among eight students who are a part of the first cohort of Cheyney University’s new STEM program in collaboration with The Wistar Institute.

The joint program, which was officially announced in July 2020, brings together the nation’s first HBCU and the nation’s first independent biomedical research institute, with the goal of expanding life science research education, training and business development opportunities in Pennsylvania.

“Students will intensively train—both in the classroom and in the lab—supported by top researchers, to become our next generation of young scientists,” Dario C. Altieri, Wistar president and CEO, said in a statement.

“With the high demand for STEM talent in the region and beyond, this is a powerful journey and exciting trajectory for our students and a win-win for science.”

The program offers a hybrid classroom that includes virtual lectures on Tuesdays and in-person instruction at the Wistar Institute on Thursdays.

The classes are three hours long and students will gain hands-on laboratory experience through laboratory courses and internships that can progress into Wistar’s credentialed apprenticeship program.

Young said that she was initially nervous when she started her first lab work at the Wistar Institute two weeks ago.

“I really didn’t have any confidence in myself when I started the labs,” Young said. “I was second guessing everything that I was doing, but my instructors have been so helpful. They were answering any questions I had. They also give me words of encouragement, and because of that the confidence I have in doing lab work has grown. Now if I make a mistake, I go to my instructors right away.”

Young adds, “I’m not hesitant to do so and they assist me in fixing the problem. I’ve learned so much from them and the class itself so far. I really look forward to my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Students started the program by entering Wistar’s Biomedical Research Methods course. The course covers biomedical research techniques with a special focus on cancer biology using a curriculum based on Wistar research from Dr. Maureen Murphy’s lab.

Murphy studies African-centric variants of the p53 tumor suppressor gene, which contribute to increased cancer risk but offer opportunities to improve treatment options. After completing this course, students will have opportunities to participate in summer research internships at Wistar.

“We will be exposing students to complex molecular biology and cancer biology topics that will allow them to participate in innovative research,” said Nicole Santerre, Cheyney assistant professor of Natural and Applied Science .

“Some of the skills they are going to be doing are cloning DNA, western blots—things that students wouldn’t necessarily get exposed to unless you go to graduate school. We are trying to encourage more students of color to directly engage in novel research techniques.

“Our students are gaining laboratory skills that will give them an advantage that is applicable to their next step, beyond Cheyney. If that means a terminal degree program or a laboratory technician position, they will be prepared.”

Santerre said what she wants students to take away from the STEM program is confidence.

“Sometimes students can be overwhelmed when they enter high-tech labs with beautiful technology and resources they haven’t seen before,” Santerre said.

“What I want students to take away from this program is more confidence in themselves. When they walk into the lab, I want students to own it. I want them to know where everything is and how to operate it.”

Through the collaboration, Cheyney has become a member of the Philadelphia Research Consortium, a preclinical research network that facilitates easy access to the region’s robust and development pipeline.

The consortium allows local, national, and international startup and biotech partners to leverage the collective research strengths of Philadelphia’s life sciences community.

“Our cutting-edge program with Wistar allows students to gain hands-on experience with the opportunity for internships that can progress into Wistar’s credentialed apprenticeship program,” said Aaron A. Walton, Cheyney University president .

“This is a forward-thinking strategic collaboration that will equip our students to become leaders with careers in life science research.”

chill@phillytrib.com. 215-893-5716

215-893-5716; chill@phillytrib.com.

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