MEDICAL CENTER REACHES HOME "BASE" WITH SCIENCE MENTORING PROGRAM
The University of Mississippi Medical Center has received a five-year, $695,923 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to continue Base Pair, a scientific mentoring program that encourages careers in the health professions by pairing high school students with scientists at UMC.
The grant is part of a $22.5 million HHMI initiative to close the gap between research institutions and their local communities by supporting educational programs intended to stimulate an interest in science. The grant ensures Base Pair will have sufficient funding to reach its 20th anniversary. Base Pair originated in the 1992-93 academic year; HHMI has funded the program since 1994.
The Medical Center was one of 31 institutions nationwide to receive funding from the HHMI. A total of 297 institutions had been invited to submit proposals for the outreach grants.
“These grants provide a unique opportunity for the biomedical research community to provide hands-on experiences and rich content to students and teachers, extending their impact to a broader range of the education continuum,” said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs.
The Base Pair program requires high school students to spend one semester in their home school preparing for lab work, then another semester with their respective scientist-mentor at UMC. An initiative of the program, Student Oriented Academic Research (SOAR), has expanded Base Pair’s influence beyond the Medical Center, providing a two-year academic curriculum in which all research activities are conducted at the high school. Base Pair currently includes students from nearby Murrah High School, while SOAR includes students from Murrah, Jim Hill, Forest Hill, Bailey Magnet and Provine High Schools.
According to Dr. Rob Rockhold, director of Base Pair since its inception, this latest round of HHMI funding will allow the program to continue to find innovative ways to enhance science education for high school students.
For example, he said through a special partnership with nearby Millsaps College, undergraduate students seeking secondary teacher licensure in Summer Research Institute (SRI) training efforts will have a major role in Base Pair’s mentor-mentee partnership.
“The Medical Center doesn’t have undergraduate students that we can bring back into science education activities on the secondary school level, and we have precious few postdoctoral fellows,” Rockhold said. “We had to reach out to another institution of higher learning in the state. Millsaps is a logical, if not compelling, choice because of our institutions’ strong relationships.”
Rockhold said HHMI views science as a team activity that benefits from diversity. By emphasizing undergraduate student participation in Base Pair, he said a “generational bridge” can be built to strengthen the communication between the teenage students and the middle-and-upper-age veteran scientists.
“What we’re really trying to promulgate is a spectrum of peer teachers,” Rockhold said. “A respected older scientist may teach a post-doctoral student, who may communicate better with a graduate student, who may relate better to an undergraduate student, who is in touch with the high school student. Therefore, you have a continuum of teacher relationships that best conveys the scientific information from the top down.”
That continuum begins with Rockhold, the recognized “champion” of Base Pair. Tim Medley, president of Medley and Brown, LLC in Jackson, who served on the Jackson Public School (JPS)sDistrict Board of Directors when Base Pair was established, initially encouraged Jackson’s then-superintendent of education, Dr. Benjamin O. Canada, to look at a similar model that had met with success in New York. He said the program’s success in Mississippi was far from guaranteed, and it took a special individual – Rockhold – to sustain and grow it in the much smaller Jackson metropolitan area.
“It’s certainly important for young students to have a good background in health sciences,” Medley said, “but we certainly had no sense of how it (Base Pair) could grow. It’s really pretty amazing that Dr. Rockhold has sustained it for this long period of time."
Indeed, Base Pair and SOAR have become so well ingrained in the Jackson Public Schools’ science curriculum that Dr. Earl Watkins, JPS superintendent, said he applauds the HHMI for recognizing the value of the program.
“The announcement of this new grant is a testament to the solid record of student achievement that has been produced by Base Pair and SOAR and to the programs’ growth since Base Pair’s inception,” Watkins said. “We are grateful to UMC for providing research opportunities to our students that simply are not available in a high school environment.
“We are appreciative as well to the individuals in our community who recognized the need and value of Base Pair, and to Dr. Rob Rockhold for his visionary leadership and commitment to the program. We are also excited to have Millsaps College as a new partner in this alliance and believe the future is extremely bright for biomedical science education in the city of Jackson.”
The Medical Center is continuing to emphasize biomedical research as the “driving force” of the Base Pair program, Rockhold said, but by incorporating a partnership with Millsaps College, the institution is extending that emphasis into the area of health literacy.”
Rockhold said the grant also will be used to establish the Rural Biomedical Initiative (RBI), a Base Pair model that can be introduced in smaller, rural high schools across the state.
“For the first time, we’ve finalized an attempt to expand our borders of influence beyond the Jackson Public School District,” he said. “If we just use the (Base Pair) model we have developed within our institution, it would be difficult to expand our influence in these areas. But we are trying this new model that will allow us to effect a greater portion of Mississippi’s population.
“This dovetails nicely with recent legislation establishing a rural medical scholars program that is to be housed here at the Medical Center. The concepts of health literacy, RBI and the rural medical scholars program all help Base Pair students become increasingly involved in the missions our entire campus is devoted to.”
The program’s long-term impact on health care in Mississippi already has begun to show impressive potential. This spring, former Base Pair student Nina Washington received the MD from UMC. Rockhold said her story was especially poignant considering her introduction to health sciences as a 10-year-old lupus patient.
“To watch her develop from being a pediatric rheumatology patient at UMC who got involved in the Base Pair program looking at outcomes of patients with acute immunity disorders, to attending medical school here, to planning a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in pediatric rheumatology with every intent to come back to Mississippi to practice, is almost indescribable,” Rockhold said.
Another former Base Pair student, Colibri Jenkins, received the MD this spring from Howard University. To celebrate, her parents gave her a party and invited Rockhold and Theophilus King, the first Base Pair teacher at Murrah High School, to speak.
“She’s going to start a residency in child and adolescent psychiatry at Tulane, then return to Mississippi to practice,” Rockhold said. “She and Nina Washington will be coming full circle, which is the whole purpose of the Base Pair program.
“Our mission for the Medical Center is to improve health care for all the citizens of Mississippi. We’re just taking a little longer view of how to accomplish that.”
Washington and Jenkins are not the only “shining stars” of the Base Pair student crop. A total of 63 percent of the 54 Base Pair graduates who have already completed college are in training for or have received an advanced professional science degree. Of those, 19 have received or are pursuing the MD or PhD. Four Base Pair graduates have been awarded the MD from UMC.
“Base Pair has exceeded my wildest dreams,” Rockhold said.
—Bruce Coleman (7-9-07)2007-07-06 00:00:00 17103
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