Students gain real world experience through NIH summer internship program

By Omar McCrimmon
Assistant Public Affairs Specialist

In the fall, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) receives thousands of online applications for the NIH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research. This competitive and rewarding opportunity allows students to work with top notch researchers who help shape their future endeavors in science and health.

"The NIH Summer Internship Program is a wonderful opportunity for students to gain firsthand research experience while working alongside some of the most accomplished scientists in the world," said Pnina Laric, M.S., a training program coordinator who oversees summer internships at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of NIH's 27 institutes and centers. Ms. Laric believes that NIH's cutting-edge science, coupled with the vast training and career resources, makes the summer internship program a wonderful place for students to grow professionally.

Of the 7, 500 students who applied for the NIH summer internship program, NIH selected 1,500 to participate. Approximately 58 of those students interned at NHGRI, including Rhea Wyse, 17, and Josephine Sanchez, 27, who had an experience of a lifetime working with NHGRI researchers.

Rhea Wyse
Rhea Wyse

A science camp sparked Rhea Wyse's interest in genetics when she heard the presenter mention that genes and genomes are the foundations of the human body. Although she was only in grade school, she set her sights on a career in genetics. Ms. Wyse spent her summer working with Charles N. Rotimi, Ph.D., director of NHGRI's Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health. Dr. Rotimi's group focuses on the relationship between obesity, hypertension and diabetes, conditions that account for more than 80 percent of health disparities between African Americans and European Americans.

"It feels so good to know that I am helping millions of people who are affected by common diseases like hypertension, diabetes and obesity here in America and across the world," said Ms. Wyse. "I really appreciate the opportunity I have been given because there are so many kids who would love this experience."

In the future, Ms. Wyse hopes to make a significant contribution to her homeland of Sierra Leone in western Africa. She is passionate about health issues in Africa and would eventually like to open a health clinic. This fall, she is applying to the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she plans to major in biology with a focus in genetics.

Josephine Sanchez
Josephine Sanchez

Last year, Josephine Sanchez worked as a temporary employee assisting the development of the Risk Assessment for Mexican Americans (RAMA) project led by Laura Koehly, Ph.D., senior investigator in NHGRI's Social and Behavioral Research Branch. Ms. Sanchez developed a genuine interest in applying social network methods to the study of complex social systems within families and communities. Dr. Koehly advised Ms. Sanchez to apply for the summer internship if she wanted to dig deeper into the research. A year later, Ms. Sanchez returned to Dr. Koehly's lab, this time focused on the roles that encouragement and discouragement played in breast cancer screening in Mexican-American families.

"I highly recommend this program to other students interested in science and health," said Ms. Sanchez. "This is a fantastic way to get real-world experience on how research works and how it affects and impacts society."

Ultimately, Ms. Sanchez wants to conduct research and create interventions and programs that promote healthy behaviors in minority communities. Ms. Sanchez will attend Towson University in Maryland next spring where she will major in public health.

For more information on the NIH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research, please visit

Last updated: March 14, 2014