College students gain hands-on experience in research laboratories through the Biomedical Careers Program.
By Mary Ann Littell and Merry Sue Baum
It wasn't his love of biology or keen interest in molecular science that gave Hector Lopez his first opportunity to work in a medical laboratory. Instead, it was a fateful encounter with a stalled car that opened the door for him.
Two years ago, while a sophomore at Cook College, Hector's car broke down in a residential neighborhood in New Brunswick - right in front of the home of city council president Blanca Valente. She came out to see if she could be of help, and the two chatted as they waited for a tow truck to arrive. When Valente learned of the student's interest in medicine, she put him in touch with Michael Gallo, PhD, at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI). The rest, as they say, was destiny.
"Working in Dr. Gallo's lab was my introduction to research, and I was immediately hooked," says the student. "He is a wonderful mentor."
Since then, Lopez has worked on a variety of research projects at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS). He has been exposed to the clinical side of medicine as well. A few years ago, his father, a commercial artist and illustrator, developed such serious vision problems that he was unable to work. Through Gallo, Hector's father was referred to a neuro-ophthalmologist at UMDNJ. Treatment was successful, and he has since been able to resume his work.
These experiences have helped Lopez, a native of North Bergen, define his career goals. While he plans to continue in research, he would like to work with patients, too. "I've been on the receiving end of good medical care, and now I want to be on the giving end," he says.
Gallo was Lopez's first mentor, but not his only one. Last summer, he participated in the Biomedical Careers Program (BCP), an eight-week summer course for minority college undergraduates interested in pursuing careers in biomedical sciences. RWJMS and Rutgers University are among the sponsors. The students, mentored by faculty from UMDNJ and Rutgers, complete advanced science courses and laboratory research. At the program's conclusion, some students present their findings.
The program, in existence now for 21 years, has served 668 students, including several sets of siblings. One hundred seventy-eight of these participants have applied to medical school, and 147 were accepted. Other students have pursued related health care careers, including dentistry, veterinary medicine and research.
Lopez has come a long way toward achieving his goals. Last year he was accepted into the ACCESS MED Transition Year Program at RWJMS. The program gives qualified students an opportunity to begin taking medical school courses as college seniors.
The students who appear here attended the BCP last summer, and presented their research at a symposium held in July 1998. Here are summaries of their findings.
1999 Table of Contents
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey