What My Mentor Taught Me, Part 2 - Institute for Educational Advancement

What My Mentor Taught Me, Part 2

by Matthew Burke, EXPLORE Alumnus

In ninth grade, while studying for midterms and slogging through term papers, I started daydreaming about how I wanted to spend my summer.  Ideally, I wanted to do scientific research, but given my age, I wasn’t sure what types of opportunities were available.  That’s when I learned about IEA’s EXPLORE program, which offers high school students a chance to work with distinguished mentors doing hands-on research in many different fields for three and six-week externships during the summer. I sent in my application to IEA, interviewed, and to my surprise, I was accepted into this prestigious program.

In the EXPLORE program, I worked as an extern for four days a week onsite with my mentor and research team and then attended career-oriented workshops off-site once a week. During these weekly seminars, industry leaders lead discussions in regards to interviewing skills, resume writing, presentation skills, and applying to college. The program was launched and coordinated with the assistance of IEA’s Ms. Niña Abonal, who matched up students to mentors as well as helped organize our meetings. Before our externship, we learned about the layout of our worksite and completed any training needed to work safely onsite at the university research labs. The externships were at various locations and college campuses in the Los Angeles area and included opportunities in diverse areas, including the sciences, arts, and humanities.

As an IEA extern, I enjoyed attending the weekly workshops, and it also gave me the chance to meet other high school externs and to learn about their projects in diverse fields such as computer science, medical research, and the arts. For my externship, I worked with Dr. Van Savage and his research team at UCLA for three weeks to develop mathematical computer-based models of vascular networks. This externship gave me the opportunity to assist with ongoing research that will lead to improved diagnosis of abnormalities such as cancers and circulatory diseases, which are leading causes of human suffering, illness, and death. Currently, the standard way for doctors to detect and identify these types of abnormalities is visually, which is not always accurate or reliable. I relished the opportunity to develop a computer model based on mathematical principles. What made the project particularly unique for me was combining the computer model with MRI data from living organisms to detect vascular abnormalities far sooner than is currently available.

It amazes me that mentors such as Dr. Savage volunteer to work with high school students, and I did my best to show my appreciation by being flexible and willing to help the team however needed. In working with Dr. Savage, I was able to gain knowledge of the area we researched, as well as a big-picture understanding of both where I fit into the project and where the project fits into the larger body of the research. Although Dr. Savage was busy leading multiple research projects, he still found the time to help and even have lunch with us. Dr. Savage also gave me the opportunity to work closely with his team, and the externs were integrated into the daily research process and supervised by Dr. Savage and other post-doctoral researchers on his group. The biggest surprise was to see my picture and bio included on Dr. Savage’s website of people on his research team, which includes post-graduate, graduate, college, and other high school students.

I appreciate that Dr. Savage showed me how I could use my interests and skills to give back to my community by applying abstract knowledge learned in school to help improve the lives of others. I would recommend IEA’s EXPLORE program because it encourages and challenges students to achieve new goals and to explore alternative fields of study. It also helps students gain a realistic perspective of a premier university research environment as well as affording students the opportunity to expand their network of academic mentors.

Would you like to be connected with a professional mentor this summer? Apply for the 2018 EXPLORE program today! Applications are due by April, 16th.

Read Part 1 of the series here.

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