High school students to benefit from $675,000 grant to UT Health Science Center’s Voelcker Academy

SAN ANTONIO (March 18, 2015) ― Outstanding San Antonio area high school students will have the opportunity to participate in a unique, intensive, three-year biomedical research program at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, thanks to a $675,000 grant from The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund.

Voelcker Fund trustees helped establish the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy at the UT Health Science Center in 2009 with an initial gift of $750,000. The goal of the Voelcker Academy is to encourage high school students to enter scientific, technological, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers to solve the health care research questions of the future.

The new funds will not only extend the program for three more years for students, but will enable Voelcker Academy leaders to conduct longer-term research on the program’s effectiveness with the hope of developing a national model for other universities to replicate.

“Minnie Voelcker hoped to help find cures for cancer, arthritis, heart disease and many other chronic health conditions. We are honoring Mrs. Voelcker’s desires by supporting this innovative program that provides early exposure and support for scientific careers,” said Voelcker Fund trustee Forrester M. Smith III.

Through the program, up to 25 high school freshmen from throughout San Antonio are selected each year through a competitive process. Students are matched with world-class biomedical researchers at the Health Science Center who mentor them in conducting individual research projects. Students devote seven weeks each summer for three consecutive years and several hours a week during the school year to their research project and to learning about science through a specialized curriculum. The curriculum includes lectures, seminars, career exploration, field trips and peer mentoring. It is one of the most extensive and comprehensive research programs for high school students in the U.S.

“We have remarkable evidence that the program is working,” said Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D., Health Science Center interim vice president for research and principal investigator of the Voelcker Academy. “All of the students who have completed the program are attending four-year universities and the majority has said the Voelcker Academy helped them do better in high school and prepared them well for college. Our data show they maintained or improved their GPA, and had significantly better SAT scores than other students from the same high school and in Texas.

“Starting a research career takes many years because students need at least a master’s degree to enter this field. Students from our first cohort in 2009 are just now in their junior year in college. We are using the additional Voelcker funding to continue tracking and supporting our Voelcker alumni, and to provide additional services to help those who are interested be better prepared to apply for and enter graduate or health care professional school,” Dr. Giuffrida said.

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