Big Brothers Big Sisters Tour Penn Neurodegenerative Research Labs, Learn about Careers in Science

In late March, local ninth and tenth grade students and their mentors toured medical labs in the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research. Students from Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus, along with their mentors – employees from the investment firm Hamilton Lane – were guided through the CNDR research labs by undergraduates, post-docs and lab staff studying neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The event was part of the Beyond School Walls mentoring program, a version of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ one-to-one youth mentoring program, where children meet in the workplace with their employee volunteer mentors two to four times a month during the school day for about an hour, and often go on excursions outside the school and office.

The 30 “bigs” and 30 “littles” heard how anyone can overcome adversity and stay focused on education. “If some of you would end up with a career in science, that would be tremendous for us,” said Virginia Lee, PhD, MBA, in her opening remarks. “When I was your age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had no role model. I studied music, but was very good at science and decided to give it a try.”

John Trojanowski, MD, PhD, weighed in, sharing the back story on his life and research partner, Dr. Lee’s past: “It was post-WW2 China, her family was on the side against Mao, which lost, and was forced to flee to Hong Kong, where it wasn’t clear how the family would survive…Virginia is a remarkable example, coming out of a very turbulent time, keeping her eye on education, to survive in the world and migrate eventually toward science.”

The students asked a lot of very smart questions (i.e. “if a drug works in animal models, will it work in humans?”) and at the end, half of the group said they were interested in pursuing a career in science. KYW Radio covered the visit, interviewing one of the students: “I learned how the brain works and how you can compare a brain that doesn’t have the disease to a brain that does have the disease,” said sophomore Caprisha Davis, who wants to be a heart surgeon someday. Caprisha appreciated the chance to hold a brain.  She said it felt like macaroni.

A slideshow of photos from the event is available via Flickr. We’ll be back with an update from the students themselves, with their perspectives on science, research, and Alzheimer’s.


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