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Bi-Cultural teen accepted into prestigious Yale research program

By Judie Jacobson

STAMFORD – Ben Marcus, a junior at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy-Upper School in Stamford, is among a select group of high school students from across the country chosen to participate in Yale University’s Discovery to Cure High School Internship Program. 

Only eight percent of eligible students were selected to receive this year’s prestigious paid internship, which carries with it the unique opportunity for students to have their research study published.

Established in 2003, the summer program introduces rising high school seniors to Yale’s biomedical laboratories in the hope that they will consider pursuing careers in the fields of science and medicine. Interns are assigned mentors and participate in a research project directed by the program’s principal investigator. The program culminates with the delivery by each student of a 10-minute presentation about his or her research project. 

“BI-Cultural is the only school to have had every candidate we’ve fielded be accepted into the program,” notes Bi-Cultural science teacher and college counselor Meghana Fernandez.

Prior to Mr. Marcus, four Bi-Cultural have gone through the internship program in previous years. Each of those students focused their projects on reproductive cancer; two have had their work published; two were invited to continue their internship for the coming year; one was selected to do research at the Oceanic Research Institute; and one represented the University of Connecticut in Iceland. All four are currently attending college, where they are each engaged in research projects.

As impressive as the Yale Discovery to Cure internship is, says Ms. Fernandez, it be-comes even more so when one considers the program’s arduous application process.

“When students reach their sophomore year, we determine which one may be suited for this internship,” she explains. “Then we work with them so that the following year they’re ready to begin the application process. It’s a very involved, long drawn out process that takes about six months to prepare. We put a lot of effort into working with the student, which is why every year we are able to get a student in. Of course, credit goes to our students who have not only put in the effort to complete the exhaustive application process but have also been amazing biological research candidates who have paved the way for up and coming students.” 

Working with Ben throughout this process was enormously gratifying, she says. “I’ve never seen anyone as organized and determined as Ben.” 

In Ben’s case, the application process started the summer before his junior year when he sat down to discuss with Ms. Fernandez potential internship opportunities for the following summer.

“I had heard of the Discovery to Cure program from previous students and wanted to gain more knowledge of the topic the program deals with, which is cancer research. Ms. Fernandez recommended that I read The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee to further my knowledge of the subject. I was extremely motivated by the book, and it bolstered my passion for medicine and cancer research. I was eager to delve deeper,” says the Stamford teen.

“Later that year, Ms. Fernandez mentioned the option of applying to the Discovery to Cure program and I jumped at the opportunity. In applying to such a competitive program, I knew that my application had to be extremely sincere and personal, while also being studious and professional. Using knowledge from my EMT certification, which I received the previous summer, and my AP/ECE biology course, the application started to come together. 

“After months of drafts and deep self-reflection, delving into my past experiences that sparked and instilled my passion for medicine, I created my final submission. The framework for my application was built on personal experiences as well as two books, which display the elements of the medical field that I find to be fascinating, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee and Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients by Dr. Ben Goldacre.” 

On April 22 – after  six months of preparation – Ben received notice from Yale that he had been accepted into the program. Unfortunately, the letter also stated that, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the program would not be taking place this summer. How-ever, Ben was invited to attend their Elite Young Professionals Medical Conference at Yale in October. 

“Although I am disappointed that I will not be able to participate in the program this summer, I did obtain a wealth of knowledge in the application process. I would not have been able to compile such a strong application without the help of the exceptional Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy STEM program and my amazing Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy advisors,” he says.

Ms. Fernandez calls the Yale Discovery to Cure internship program an “amazing opportunity that allows students  to see what happens in terms of research. One of the many great things about it, is that the students are given access to the kind of lab equipment that is simply unavailable at the high school level. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Main Photo: Ben Marcus was among a team of three students from Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy-Upper School who were awarded first prize in the Seventh Annual CIJE (Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education) Innovation Day competition, held Sun-day, May 19, 2019 at Bell Works in New Jersey.

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