Local High Schoolers Explore ‘STEM’ Through SOAR Program

August 23, 2023 by

SOAR program leaders and high school students

Dean Melina Kibbe (top, left) greets SOAR high school students. At bottom of photo, left to right, are leaders of the program Brynne Sullivan, Sana Syed and Adam Greene. (contributed photo)

The School of Medicine’s Summer Opportunities in Academic Research (SOAR), co-founded and co-directed by Assistant Professor Brynne Sullivan, MD, and Associate Professor Sana Syed, MD, in the Department of Pediatrics, is a program for local high schoolers that is committed to supporting and increasing underrepresented students entering careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

SOAR has grown since Drs. Sullivan and Syed started the program in 2021. Additional support from the Dean of the School of Medicine, the UVA Cancer Center, and the UVA Surgery Department, has helped SOAR increase the number of students accepted each summer from two to six.

During the eight-week SOAR course, the high school students were part of a structured course with morning didactics and career meet and greets, along with lab experiential time in the afternoons. The students heard speakers from every corner of STEM, including data scientists, physician-scientists, academic researchers, and others to discover the unique ways people have come to their careers in medicine. For the experiential component, they were paired with faculty mentors in their labs to conduct hands-on research in biomedicine in the afternoons. This year’s participating principal investigator faculty were Drs. Araceli Santiago, Allan Tsung, Daniel Trey Lee, Fernando Ruiz, Ariel Gomez and Bon Trinh.

Drs. Sullivan and Syed aim to give children an opportunity at an earlier stage than medical school or undergraduate years to explore biomedical careers and different pathways of STEM. The rewarding nature of working with young teenagers to help them expand the boundaries of how they see their future is a big reason they are able to round-up a fantastic team of volunteers to help facilitate the program each summer. This includes administrative support and student resource support from iTHRIV (the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia), a NIH-NCATS funded clinical and translational research institute. Drs. Sullivan and Syed are clinician-scientists and graduates of the iTHRIV Scholars program.

The SOAR program has been successfully running for three years. This year’s program was led by Angela Gummadi and Will Monroe, who helped guide the students on their exploration of STEM fields and provided daily mentorship. Program Manager Adam Greene also helped organize and coordinate the program. “The hard work and dedication shown by these students is truly remarkable,” said Greene. “It is such a pleasure to support the next generation of talented young scientists as they plan their futures in STEM.”

Read more about the SOAR program in a recent article in UVA Today. 

Note: iTHRIV is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science of the National Institutes of Health Awards UL1TR003015/ KL2TR003016. Contents of this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution and/or the National Institutes of Health.


Filed Under: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Education, Faculty