Arizona students earned a hefty incentive Tuesday to study bioscience here. The program chooses 45 high school, undergraduate and graduate students from Arizona to work with a mentor scientist on finding genetic clues to everything from diabetes to Alzheimer’s to autism.
“It means students are getting out of the classroom and really seeing the application of science and math,” Gov. Janet Napolitano said during a morning news conference at TGen’s Phoenix headquarters.
“It is through these types of partnerships, in which real money is involved, that students get experience that they might not be able to obtain,” she said.
For 19-year-old Eli Zenkov of Chandler, it means searching for a genetic link to autism.
The Hamilton High School graduate was inspired by his advanced-placement biology teacher and interned last summer at TGen.
Zenkov is taking a year off from Carnegie Mellon University to continue his work in the neurogenomics division.
Among other things, he said, the internship has taught him that it’s possible to apply what “piques your interest” in high school to the real world.
Asked what he’d advise high school students, Zenkov said, “Don’t think of the stuff that you’re learning as just for the test.”
The competitive eight-week internships pay students an hourly wage, depending on their academic grade. The Helios grant will also fund six academic scholarships.
After supporting last summer’s internship program and talking with some of the students, Helios Foundation Chairman Vince Roig said it became clear this would be an easy sell to the board.
“I was just blown away. And I said, ‘This is what we want to be involved in,’ ” Roig said.
“I don’t know which one of you is the next Nobel Prize winner,” he said to the interns. “But I know there is one.”
University of Arizona graduate Daniel Salgado completed two summer internships working on biofuel cells.
He said the experience at TGen helped him believe in the “power of imagination.”
“What many could view as science fiction was on its way to becoming reality,” he said.
The TGen investment fits with Napolitano’s focus on beefing up math and science education and the state Board of Education’s new standards requiring more math and science to earn a high school diploma in an effort to better prepare young people to enter the high-tech work force.
In her annual address earlier this month, the governor called on the Legislature to provide more money for math and science teachers to keep pace with the new requirements. And she urged revision of state testing standards to match the higher-level math skills students should have.
She said the partnership between TGen and Helios is “part and parcel of how we are moving Arizona into the 21st century.”
TGen’s internship programs have trained nearly 250 students in four years. Former interns include Albert Shieh of Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School and Anne Lee of Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, whose team took first place in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in 2005, earning them a $100,000 scholarship.
The Helios Education Foundation, based in Arizona and Florida, is the largest nonprofit dedicated to education in those two states, with an endowment of more than $600 million.
Since it was launched in 2004, the foundation has spent nearly $42 million on education-related programs and initiatives in both states.
This is the second-largest foundation grant, following a $10 million gift to the Arizona College Scholarship Foundation.