Scanning mouse bones. Reading radiographic scans. Analyzing data. Seventeen-year-old Albert Khuaceu Mang says he wouldn’t have wanted to spend his summer any other way.

Albert Mang in a biomedical laboratory
Albert Mang in the lab of IU School of Medicine’s Alexander Robling, PhD, where he spent his summer internship with the Indiana CTSI Project STEM program. (Photo by Andrea Zeek)

Mang was one of several dozen high school student participants in the 2017 Indiana CTSI Project STEM summer research program, which includes Indianapolis Project STEM, Indianapolis Project SEED and the Future Scientists Program. The program aims to help develop a pipeline of scientists by giving high school students hands-on internship experience in professional laboratories, where they conduct research under the supervision of a faculty/professional mentor.

Project STEM director Elmer Sanders said this year’s cohort of students is the program’s largest yet, with participants from high schools across the greater Indianapolis area. Students who are interested in science can apply to the program to get a taste of what it would be like to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Mang, a senior at Southport High School, said he decided to participate in Project STEM because he wants to go to medical school and become a physician. A refugee from Burma (now Myanmar), Mang said because his native country doesn’t have many good doctors, he would like to help people by practicing medicine there one day.

This summer, Mang was placed in the lab of Alexander Robling, PhD, professor of anatomy and cell biology at IU School of Medicine, where he worked on research to discover new therapies and treatments for people with low-bone-mass disorders, such as osteoporosis and rare genetic diseases.

“I think it’s amazing,” Mang said. “Everything is a surprise to me because I’ve never seen any of this equipment before. I’ve learned a lot.”

Indiana CTSI Project STEM 2017 participants.
Indiana CTSI Project STEM 2017 participants. (Photo by Andrea Zeek)

Dr. Robling, who has mentored several Project STEM students over the past decade and serves on the IU School of Medicine’s MD/PhD admissions committee, said the program provides a great launching pad for young scientists.

“The earlier you can start on research, the better off you are,” Dr. Robling said. “For high school students, it’s really unique.”

Dr. Robling said Mang is among the best Project STEM students he has mentored because of his impressive work ethic.

“Albert picks stuff up very easily, and the few things he hasn’t, he has really worked on,” he said. “He takes the initiative to get things to where he can understand them and do them himself.”

Mang said that’s “part of the fun” of research, figuring out whether you did the right thing and why.

In addition to giving him new knowledge about biomedical research and what it’s like to work in a lab, Mang said the Indiana CTSI Project STEM program provided an inspiring environment for young people who are passionate about science to meet like-minded peers.

“I met a lot of new friends with different perspectives on science,” Mang said. “It was great for us to come together as one.”

Mang said he also thinks his new research skills will help him in some of his senior year classes, such as anatomy and biology.

He hopes to return to IUPUI next year to study science and pre-medicine.

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