Special Volunteers

Working in an NIH lab has given the Bnos Yisroel students an exciting real-world experience. (Rhoda Baer Photography)

Working in an NIH lab has given the Bnos Yisroel students an exciting real-world experience. (Rhoda Baer Photography)

It all started last year when a student approached Dr. Linda Samuels, high school science teacher at Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore. The student asked Dr. Samuels for help finding summer work in a lab. Dr. Samuels began asking around and eventually got into contact with Dr. Daniel Edelman of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. Unfortunately, he told Dr. Samuels, there was nothing available; if people want to intern at the NIH, they need to apply a year in advance.

Every summer, explained Dr. Samuels, an estimated 8,000 applicants seek internships at the NIH. Dr. Edelman had cautioned that even with an advanced application, there was only a slight chance that students from a small private school like Bnos Yisroel could get into the program — unless the school started a bridge program.

And so, that’s what the school did.

This summer, from June 24 to Aug. 15, six girls from Bnos Yisroel’s junior and senior classes — Sheindel Ifrah, Malka Katz, Esti Anflick, Haddasi Miller, Margalit Addess and Gitty Purec — are interning at the NIH through a new program called the Bnos High School Scientific Bridge Program. (The girls are divided into two groups, each interning for four weeks.) These internships give the girls opportunities to witness and experience different aspects of biomedical science at the NIH, as they are considered “special volunteers” and are part of a group of 1,000 NIH interns.

The purpose of this program, Dr. Samuels said, “is to bridge the girls from a high school curriculum into a real-world experience.”

The girls certainly are getting a lot of real-world experience this summer. Not only do they spend most of their time in the labs, but they also are learning how to write an official science research paper, how to do literature searches in the medical library and how to deal with a supervisor and work schedule.

Assistant high school principal Libby Spero said, “I think it is an outstanding opportunity. … [The interns] are all girls who are capable and interested in doing something in the science field.”

“I was always interested in science,” said Gitty. “I always want to know the reasons behind things.”

Sheindel described the program as being “about bringing in a minority group that’s not usually catered to: frum girls who go to a Jewish private school. …  We get a lot of reactions [at the NIH] like, ‘Oh, you go to private school so you probably have all these high-tech labs, and you probably have all this fancy stuff, and you probably know so much more.’”

Sheindel said what the people at NIH don’t know is that because the girls go to an Orthodox day school, they aren’t given the same type of science education as students who attend public or secular private schools.

“This program is [exposing us to] all the other fields of science that we were not previously exposed to,” she said.

Haddasi explained her reason for applying for the program.

“I was very interested in science, and [I knew it would be] a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and to experience interactions in science, to be in a place where people work in labs because I’ve never really had the chance to experience that,” she said.

To qualify for the program, the girls had to write a cover letter and submit a resume in addition to filling out an application. Each girl was also interviewed by Dr. Edelman.  The girls were told that the most important qualification, according to Margalit, was that they were expected “to be committed to this.”

Malka noted that Dr. Edelman highlights different real-world scenarios that would concern an Orthodox Jew and “asks us how we would react to them. Then, [by asking our opinions] he guides us through what we would say.”

Esti said after just a few weeks at the NIH, she already knows she wants a career in science.

“Everyone we met is just so excited about being in the science world,” she said with smile. “The main goal of the NIH, and [medical] science in general, is to help the well-being of people. That’s the mission, and I want to be part of it.”

Rachel Finkelstein is a JT intern
rachelfemail@gmail.com

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