Rocket Science: Students Vie for Slots in Enriching Summer Program

Posted: March 27, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: April 9, 2013 at 12:14 pm

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By Michele McDonald

Neuroscience major Sarah Albani participated in ASSIP when she was in high school. Creative Services photo

Neuroscience major Sarah Albani participated in the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program before she entered Mason as a freshman. She says it sparked her interest in pursuing a research career. Creative Services photo

Nearly twice as many aspiring scientists this year are vying for coveted slots in a George Mason University summer program that matches students with top researchers.

The Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) reported a 42 percent increase in applicants this year to 624, up from 364 a year ago. They’re competing for 50 slots with mentors from George Mason’s College of Science, Krasnow Institute, and Bioengineering Department. The researchers expect to select the participants by mid-April.

It’s easy to understand why the program has rocketed in popularity, says Sarah Albani, a neuroscience major graduating in May and an ASSIP program graduate.

“Participating in ASSIP the summer before my freshman year was one of the most valuable and enriching experiences I have had,” says Albani, who graduated from McLean High School in 2009. “Not only did it familiarize me with the vast opportunities that are available for students at Mason, but it also opened up the field of research to me — both sparking and solidifying my interest in pursuing a career in research.”

Amy VanMeter Adams directs ASSIP. Creative Services photo

Amy VanMeter Adams helped create the innovative ASSIP. Creative Services photo

Amy VanMeter Adams, a research specialist in the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, and CAPMM’s co-directors Lance Liotta and Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin III created ASSIP in 2007.

ASSIP offers high school and undergraduate students the opportunity to work side-by-side with top researchers on meaningful scientific research projects. They also practice effective scientific writing and oral communication skills, become aware of career opportunities in the STEM fields and strengthen team and leadership skills. Furthermore, students exercise creativity by interpreting their scientific research into art with the help of renowned artist Rebecca Kamen.

“I want the students to have an enriching scientific experience,” VanMeter Adams says of the program that begins on June 20 and ends with a poster session on Aug. 12.

Students work in such areas as proteomics, genomics, neuroscience, chemistry, biochemistry, biodefense, environmental science, mathematical modeling, computer science, bioinformatics, nanotechnology, physics and bioengineering. Nearly 30 students have been co-authors on scientific journal articles, abstracts for scientific conferences, book chapters and patents. One such study by then-high school student Temple Douglas led to a new test for Lyme disease that’s now being tested in a clinical trial at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Learning to write about research and create a scientific poster for it are invaluable skills that undergraduates will use as they progress in their careers, Albani says. “The ability to write scientifically is undoubtedly a crucial skill, and having opportunities to hone it are rare and something that most undergraduates don’t get the chance to do,” she says.

VanMeter Adams knows from personal experience that there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. “When seeking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) employment, a degree is far more valuable when it is paired with a genuine scientific research experience,” she says.

The three-month program is supported by corporate and personal donations. Platinum and Gold Sponsors include Fisher Scientific, Life Technologies, Micron Foundation, Corning Life Sciences, C2Technologies, Inc., Prince William County Department of Economic Development and Aerojet.

“Although we face tough economic times, our gracious donors have permitted ASSIP to thrive for seven years, and we are dedicated to maximizing their contributions to nurture future scientific leaders,” VanMeter Adams says.

Write to Michele McDonald at

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