Bronx High School Students Spend the Day at Montefiore Einstein

Two high school juniors, one senior, and one recent graduate, representing Bronx Regional High School, Harry S. Truman High School, Bronx Envision Academy, and Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, visited Montefiore Einstein on July 14 to learn about what goes on in an academic institution. The students, part of the Bronx-based nonprofit Rocking the Boat, toured the Einstein and Montefiore Wakefield campuses, met faculty members, and spent time in research labs.

The day kicked off with a welcome from Alyson Myers, M.D., the department of medicine’s associate chair of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and organizer of the day’s events, followed by a visit with members of the Albert Einstein chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics, and Native Americans in Science). Students had the opportunity to have a Q&A session with Albert Einstein College of Medicine leadership, including Janice John, D.O., M.S., assistant dean for integrated medical education, Yvonne Ramirez, vice president of human resources and Title IX coordinator, and Damien Jackson, assistant dean in the office of student finance. Students were then able to visit several labs (Drs. Yaron Tomer’s, Dario Riascos-Bernal’s, and Wei Chen’s) followed by lunch with representatives of the Black Student Union. The day ended with a visit to Wakefield hospital.

Students Ethan Cruz and William Capellan conducting an experiment in Dr. Dario Riasco-Bernal’s lab with Gabriel Quinones (research technician)
Students Ethan Cruz and William Capellan conducting an experiment in Dr. Dario Riasco-Bernal’s lab with Gabriel Quinones (research technician)

Alizette Vargas, a student from Bronx Envision Academy, spent time in the endocrinology lab with Research Fellow Aizhan Kozhakhmetova, M.D., Ph.D., where she learned about DNA, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and gel imaging techniques. She also practiced pipetting water and received printed out gel images with mice and human DNA and left with two bags of “swag” consisting of several sterile tubes and a cell culturing dish.

“Alizette was enthusiastic and enjoyed everything she was hearing, watching, and doing,” says Dr. Kozhakhmetova. “It was notable that she was genuinely interested in lab research and the science behind it. I was really impressed by her diligence in handling and pipetting water samples. It makes me think that her preliminary decision to become a veterinary scientist received a good boost.” Says Alizette, “I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but Montefiore Einstein helped me finally decide what career I actually want to look into in the future. It is definitely an inspiring place to visit!”

Students Ethan Cruz and William Capellan visiting the lab of Dario Riascos-Bernal, M.D., Ph.D, loaded and ran DNA samples and visualized the separation of DNA fragments of different sizes in a gel and discussed what they observed with Dr. Riascos-Bernal and Research Technician Gabriel Quinones. They also saw under a microscope endothelial cells growing in culture and undergoing a scratch injury assay. Further, they had the opportunity to engage in conversations about future goals.

“I think this event was meaningful as it provided young students from the Bronx the opportunity to get exposed to a biomedical laboratory. It also allowed them to interact with Ph.D., M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. students, faculty, and leaders of the Einstein community,” says Dr.   Riascos-Bernal, who is an assistant professor of medicine (cardiology) and of developmental & molecular biology. “It is hard to predict the impact this experience would have on the students, but offering the opportunity is progress.”

“Students had a very positive impression of their Montefiore Einstein visit. They appreciated how many different members of the staff spent time with them and how it was ‘cool’ to have such a different experience at a hospital than the ones they’re used to,” says, Ricardo Almonte, alumni coordinator for Rocking the Boat. “One student talked about how the visit ‘confused’ her, but in a good way. She was set on looking into nursing or veterinary school, but speaking to so many different doctors prompted her to consider different kinds of work in the medical field.”

“This is the beginning of an ongoing partnership with this dynamic program. We have already begun planning for a follow-up visit this winter,” says Dr. Myers.

Rocking the Boat runs educational programs for high school students from the Soundview and South Bronx area and teaches them about STEM, boat building, environmental science, and sailing, with the goal of empowering economically disadvantaged young people in the South Bronx. The relationship with the department of medicine was influenced by Alethea Shepardson, a nurse practitioner in the division of endocrinology who is a Rocking the Boat volunteer.

The students who visited Montefiore Einstein were William Capellan (Harry S. Truman High School), Ethan Cruz (Bronx Regional High School), Armatti Mendez (Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School), and Alizette Vargas (Bronx Envision Academy).