Alumni of High School Internship Program Return for 25th Anniversary to Inspire Current Students

By Julianne Heberlein, Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern, Contributing Writer; photos by Richard Frederickson, Staff Photographer
Man standing at podium

WHK alumnus Jarett Remsberg shares how his internship at NCI helped his Ph.D. research at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Building 549 auditorium is often packed with high school interns eager to hear a scientific lecture. On April 22, however, the room swelled with interns spanning a wider age range. At the 25th Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program (WHK SIP) Anniversary Symposium, incoming, current, and former interns gathered to celebrate the program, which has provided biomedical research experience for local high school seniors.

Since 1991, about 1,000 interns have graduated from the WHK SIP with experiences that helped shape their future careers. Many went on to attend medical school, some are currently working toward their doctoral degrees, and others have followed administrative paths.

Regardless of their chosen career paths, the guest speakers all concluded that the WHK SIP played a great role in determining their future.

Jarrett Remsberg, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated from the WHK SIP in 2006 under mentor Nadya Tarasova, Ph.D., Synthetic Biologics and Drug Discovery Facility, and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Remsberg had developed a love for environmental science and agriculture while growing up on his parents’ dairy farm in Middletown, Maryland, and his internship at NCI allowed him to cultivate his love for science by researching the signaling system known as hedgehog, which plays a key role in embryonic development.

Remsberg realized that “once you actually see [research conducted] on a bench, it’s like, wow—this is how it really works.” He was inspired to start his own research group as a scientist in the future.

Sarah Reynolds graduated from the WHK SIP in 2005, and then expanded her scientific knowledge at the University of Maryland, College Park. She spent subsequent summers in various NCI at Frederick labs, where she discovered a strong interest in protein signaling in virology, the subject of her current Ph.D. studies. Reynolds expressed how she values the “community” at NCI at Frederick, noting that it “really makes a difference in collaboration to share knowledge.”

While many interns go on to pursue careers in science, others follow a different path.

Amy Stull, lead workforce management specialist, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, graduated from the WHK SIP in 2000. She said she gained valuable experience by working in a professional environment as a WHK intern. Although she learned a lot working in a research lab, she decided that research was not the field for her. Instead, she majored in finance at the University of Delaware.

One of the biggest lessons Stull learned was when she got “completely chewed out for the first time in [her] life” for leaving the lab to have lunch with her co-interns. Because she did not say why she was leaving or where she was going, she was reprimanded by her mentor. Stull said that the incident taught her to act like an adult, even while she was still a high school student.

A panel of mentors answered questions, mainly from incoming WHK interns, about the future of scientific research and the impact of social media. The panel included James Cherry, Ph.D., Office of Scientific Operations (OSO); Tarasova; Randy Johnson, Ph.D., Data Science and Information Technology Program; Howard Young, Ph.D., Laboratory of Experimental Immunology; Raul Cachau, Ph.D., Advanced Biomedical Computing Center; Kim Klarmann, Ph.D., Mouse Cancer Genetics Program; Eric Freed, Ph.D., HIV Dynamics and Replication Program; and Melissa Porter, OSO.

Theresa Alban, Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent, commended the hands-on experience that the WHK SIP has given FCPS students. She noted that, without failure, students cannot succeed. Since science involves a lot of failed attempts, failing in the laboratory teaches students both important lab skills and valuable life lessons.

Following the symposium, WHK SIP alumni reminisced about their intern days over refreshments and cake, while current interns discussed where their experiences could lead them. Incoming interns hypothesized whether they would end up at MIT for their bachelor’s degree, discover that research is not the career for them, or find a new community like the one that Reynolds has come to embrace.