More teens than ever before get biotech experience through UMass internships

Aug 4, 2023

With their heads down in the UMass Dartmouth Bioengineering lab, 20 New Bedford High School interns tested for genetically modified organisms in strawberries, identified blood types from samples and studied the science behind contact lenses.

This year the program admitted more students than ever before, more than double last year's eight students. All 20 interns are paid for their time, which stretches over six weeks.

The funding comes from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which started five years ago to ignite interest in biotechnology and strengthen its workforce across the commonwealth.

“It is [good] exposure to bioengineering, especially since such a low percentage of students come to college for bioengineering,” said Kailey Sousa, who will start at UMass Dartmouth in the fall as a bioengineering student. “But it’s like really cool because we get paid to make gels and stuff.”

The increased number of students means more help from other professors and graduate students.

The program is led by Professor Tracie Ferreira, who ensures that the student’s days are packed with labs where they learn a variety of biotechnology applications.

“I think the group has grown because last year's interns really enjoyed themselves and encouraged attendance,” said Ferreira.

Merin Don Bosco, a Ph.D. student at UMass Dartmouth who works with the students, eyes water when she talks about the joy she has working with the students.

“Just to show that science is not too scary, I think that is the best part of this,” she said. “Kids planning this far ahead of their careers is so inspiring actually, because we didn’t really have that opportunity.”

Don Bosco plans to become a professor, so working with the students is extra exciting for her.

“This is something I wanted to do to gain some valuable experience for when I go on to be a professor,” she said.

The students match her excitement, passionately explaining the different lab processes they have learned, adding that the UMass staff “really know their stuff.”

Ferreira added that the program helps the students gain work experience that makes college more approachable “and less intimidating as many are first-generation college students.”

The students agree with Ferreira, that it is a valuable experience for them.

“The best part would probably be the privilege we all have to do this,” Sousa said. “The fact that we get to do something at UMass Dartmouth for a field that is barely known is crazy.”