Pilot program lets high school students conduct research with Mayo Clinic

The pilot program is called SPARK, or Science Program for the Advancement of Research Knowledge. Currently, there are nine students in it. One of the goals of the program is to help students submit a competitive science fair project, but it goes beyond that. Students are getting a unique hands-on experience, focusing on things like cancer and stem cell research.

“We’re providing them that platform that they need to take it to the next level,” said Sharon Collins, Research Program Coordinator at Mayo. She says the mentoring program can have a lasting effect not only on students, but also on the first Coast.

“Hopefully these students will go on to medical school and maybe come back to Mayo in our area as future researchers and scientists that can help cure and treat some of the diseases that we’re faced with,” Collins said.

With only a little over a week into the eight-week program, there are still many firsts for students in the program like Emma Kee, who will be a senior at Ponte Vedra High School.

“When I first learned how to do this I was like oh my gosh I can’t slice a brain, I thought I would mess it up,” said Kee who is dissecting mice brains as part of her science fair project. She’s collecting certain type of cells needed to further her research in neurodegenerative diseases.

Although she’s not sure yet what she will major in, she says she’s achieving her goals one step at a time.

“It means a lot because I’ve wanted to do something like this for so long, since I was an eighth-grader,” Kee said.

The program is open to junior and seniors in St. Johns and Duval counties.

Janny Rodriguez, WTLV