A total of 526 Puerto Rican high school students applied for the first edition of the Sacred Heart-MIT Neuroscience Precollege Program, to be held in June at Sacred Heart University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, program co-founders Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez and Héctor de Jesús-Cortés confirmed.
The scientists said the application period, which began Jan. 7 during the seismic emergency that affected Puerto Rico and ended Monday, exceeding result expectations with participation from students from schools in more than 50 municipalities.
Both said it is admirable that the difficulties of the disaster did not discourage the young people who took the step to get closer to their dreams of exploring careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We’re more than satisfied by the massive response of our young people, it was just what we wanted: to stimulate their interest and desire to explore careers in these fields and in these reputed universities without fear of not being able to afford the experience,” said Jesús-Cortés, from Bayamón, and is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dr. Mark F. Bear lab at MIT, where he researches how to strengthen brain connections to facilitate learning.
“This should definitely make us reflect as a people, as an island and on a personal level. The central question we need to ask ourselves is how to continue creating opportunities to help our new generations achieve their full potential in these and in all fields of knowledge,” said Guzmán-Vélez, who graduated from public schools in Isabela and Quebradillas and who has a doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentration in neuropsychology.
She is an instructor in the Dr. Yakeel T. Quiroz lab, as part of the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital.
She’s working to identify markers in the brain and behavior that allow predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, and what factors protect people against these diseases.
Starting this week, a 14-member panel of judges will evaluate the applications, to narrow down the group to the 20 students who will spend two weeks at Sacred Heart University (June 1-14) and two weeks at MIT (June 15-27). Winners will be announced this month.