issue Winter 2023

Weekend Lab Warriors

By Amy Knutson Strack
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

School on a Saturday? For most students, that would be nothing to rave about, unless they are students in RFU’s Pre-professional Laboratory Assistant Course, affectionately dubbed Science Saturdays.

Through generous sponsorship from the Gorter Family Foundation, Steans Family Foundation and CPASS Foundation, the program kicks off its next season in the spring with plans for programs in the summer.

“Students have fun,” said Interim Director of Pathway Programming Quijuan Greathouse, “but they also find value in higher education.”

“It really gives you the confidence to say, Yes, I can pursue this — I will be in the health profession.”

In Science Saturdays, students complete coursework and also gain hands-on laboratory experience that enhances their understanding of core scientific concepts. Coupled with academic support, they have a competitive edge during the admissions process for medical school or other health professional degree programs.

“Our goal is to assist students in their preparation for college success so that they can successfully apply and be prepared for advanced studies in the medical and healthcare fields,” said Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Eric G. Williams, PhD. “We want students to have knowledge of the full breadth of careers in health care. I believe that exposing participants to different careers gives students the knowledge needed to make the best career decisions.”

What distinguishes Science Saturdays from other pathway programs for high school students is RFU uses a multi-level mentor approach with faculty, students and graduate students. This allows participants to work with compatible mentors who have focused interests.

Several students also matriculate to the university’s INSPIRE (Influence Student Potential and Increase Representation in Education) program, an eight-week mentoring and research program for high school and college students. INSPIRE students return for multiple years to support their studies.

Sarah Mata, a first-year student at DePaul University and graduate of Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake, Illinois, participated in Science Saturdays as well as INSPIRE.

“I had never been around faculty and students at this level, so being around them (in this environment) was a little intimidating,” said Ms. Mata. “But I learned they are really here to support me and guide me and answer all of my questions. It really gives you the confidence to say, ‘Yes, I can pursue this — I will be in the health profession.’”

The programs continue to focus on increasing the number of qualified students from underrepresented populations in Lake County, with a goal of completing advanced degree health programs and later serving the community as practicing health professionals.

“My vision for both Science Saturdays and INSPIRE is to increase the number of participants in the program, especially students from North Chicago, where Rosalind Franklin is located,” said Dr. Williams.

Both Dr. Williams and Mr. Greathouse emphasized how valuable the program is for communities near RFU, allowing participants an opportunity to have hands-on experience, even beyond STEM fields.

“First-generation students get exposure that they would possibly not get otherwise,” said Mr. Greathouse. “I think it impacts the students (because they also) learn things like financial literacy.”

Aylin Sanroman studies biology as a second-year student at Purdue University Northwest. She graduated from Round Lake High School in Round Lake, Illinois, and participated in Science Saturdays as well as two years in the INSPIRE program.

“Something I thought I would never do so soon is work in a lab setting and do things hands-on,” said Ms. Sanroman about her experience. “In my (college) biology lab, it’s just basic pipette work, but (at RFU), we use more advanced equipment with much more responsibility. I never thought I would be so young and doing this.”

Amy Knutson Strack is director of advancement communications in the Office for Institutional Advancement.