Summer Opportunities for Students in the Innovation Quarter

7 minute read

If you want an output of diverse leadership in STEM, then the pipeline that feeds those positions must be equally inclusive.

Here in the Innovation Quarter, several organizations are working to ensure that students from grade six through collegiate levels have a summer experience that gets them more than a tan—from free summer camps to paid internships.

Here are five opportunities for students happening in the Innovation Quarter this summer and beyond:

1. Research Opportunities for Undergraduates (REU)

Across the country, the National Science Foundation funds summer internships for undergraduate students. Within the Wake Forest School of Medicine, several departments participate in these REU’s, some of which are funded through the National Institute for Health and the National Institute of Aging, including Center for Precision Medicine, WFIRM, Informatics, ENGAGED / EICS: these programs are focused on aging (ENGAGED) and cardiovascular (EICS) research and Biomedical Engineering (BME).

The latter was founded in 2005 by Joel Stitzel with one undergraduate intern per summer—and has grown over the past 16 years with the current summer cohort hosting 31 undergraduate interns. The BME summer program aims to build a diverse and robust STEM workforce by providing undergraduates with hands-on research opportunities, boot-camp and seminar sessions on technical and professional development topics, and opportunities for interns to present their research at BME’s summer symposium and national conferences. In sum, BME has hosted more than 215 students over 16 summers. The current cohort is 65% female and 30% underrepresented minority students, and 40% of the students are from colleges with very limited STEM research opportunities.

“Many of our students are from groups that are underrepresented or new to biomedical research. The program serves as a pipeline to higher education, with over 80% of former participants pursuing advanced degrees after undergrad, and 20% of these returning to our Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences graduate program.”
—Ashley Weaver, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest School of Medicine

Drs. Mariana Morris and Debra Diz started the Excellence in Cardiovascular Sciences (EICS) summer research program in 1993. Over 340 underrepresented and minority undergraduate students have participated in EICS over the years. Current topics range from COVID-19 to racism and social inequity and injustice and their impact on minority health. 

A newer program, funded by the National Institute on Aging, Enhancing Undergraduate Education and Research in Aging to Eliminate Health Disparities (ENGAGED) is a joint program with WSSU and WFU—directed by Drs. Debra Diz and Tina Brinkley. 

The EICS and ENGAGED undergraduate students participate in research topics related to aging, cardiovascular disease and health disparities. Trainees participating in the EICS and ENGAGED programs for 2021 were selected from across the country and represent 16 different universities. Demographics of the 2021 cohort are 68% female, 45% African American/Black, 23% Hispanic, 9% Native American/Alaskan Native, with 60% from disadvantaged backgrounds.

2. Wake Forest School of Medicine Postdoc Support and Opportunities

The Innovation Quarter welcomes the best and brightest from around the country to complete their medical training after graduating from a doctoral program. The Wake Forest School of Medicine hosts a wide range of fellowships and residencies—so the Winston-Salem community can benefit from this collective brainpower.

And for our postdocs of color, the Kennedy Hopkins Scholars program was founded in 2018 to improve the experience of underrepresented minority (URM) residents and fellows of Wake Forest School of Medicine through mentoring relationships. KHS provides community engagement opportunities such as providing care and education at Juneteenth and participating in health panels and forums. Additionally, the program provides summer enrichment opportunities for KH mentees, such as movie night socials, to encourage camaraderie and community.

Kennedy Hopkins Scholars with mentors at the Juneteenth Festival in Wake Forest Biotech Place.

3. Mixxer STEAM Experiences

Mixxer began offering its STEAM Experiences program in 2020 to engage rising 6-12th graders, across all socioeconomic levels, with science and art. Driven to be a change agent, they developed their Equitable Access Initiative in 2021, which includes providing lunch and supplies to every student—and reducing the price of tuition to as low as $15 per student. Mixxer gives first access to courses to community partners Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, Habitat Forsyth’s Youth Empowerment Program, Soy Emprendedor—and other organizations serving marginalized communities.

Alan Shelton with Soy Emprendedor students at Mixxer.

After those folks have had the opportunity to enroll, they then reduce the cost of the remaining spots as much as funding will allow. This method means that no student has to ask for a scholarship, and every student has the same supplies to work with—creating a level-playing field for these future scientists, artists, and engineers.

Student at Mixxer STEAM Camp.

To date, Mixxer has served about 75 students, and half of the camps this year have sold out. Their goal? To double the number of offerings annually—and they are on track to continue this trend, with plans for 2022 already underway.

Mixxer is the connection point for people to build a better life for themselves, whether it’s learning a new skill, building things to sell, meeting mentors and learning from them, or just making things for the joy of the process. All of these people rely on each other so they can get the resources and the knowledge they need here at Mixxer.
—Alan Shelton, Founder & Executive Director, Mixxer

4. Girls as Citizen Scientists

Dr. Kyana Young (top row, 2nd from left) leading at GCS virtual session.

Lead by Dr. Kyana Young, a professor at Wake Forest University’s engineering department, Girls as Citizen Scientists (GCS) enforced the importance that environmental health plays in maintaining a community’s public health throughout the last school year. As a nontraditional student who took time to explore academic options, Dr. Young understands that accessible education and representation in STEM matter. In collaboration with Winston-Salem State University faculty member and GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math and Science) director Dr. J. Denise Johnson, Dr. Young has been able to educate and inspire local middle school girls with her expertise on water treatment.

GCS has hosted a Saturday Academy under Dr. Young’s guidance where students gathered to investigate water sources, learned how to collect and analyze data, explored healthy water systems maintenance, and collaborated to generate innovative solutions for the future. Additionally, Dr. Young and her team created activities and lead discussions on the importance of air, water and soil quality, as well as the importance of girls in the field of science.

5. Soy Emprendedor

Entrepreneurship is at the heart of our ecosystem, and we recognize that we must support the diverse pipeline of talent that sets the scene for future innovation. Soy Emprendedor inspires and educates Black and Latinx students to discover a creative, curious and entrepreneurial mindset.

We recently offered up our spaces for Soy Emprendedor to host ACCelera, its 2-month accelerator program. The program teaches students how to foster an entrepreneurial and innovative way of thinking. Throughout the program, each student works with a local mentor to brainstorm a business idea, develop a concept, build a presentation, and present it to a group of Winston-Salem entrepreneurs.

In the fall, look out for EmprendeCON for an intensive entrepreneurial experience for high school students.

Do you know a summer camp that would like a tour of the Innovation Quarter? Submit a request to tour with our team.