Since 1993 the Hektoen Institute has sponsored a mentorship program, named to honor the late Dr. Morris Friedell, founding member of the Hektoen Institute and former chairman of the Hektoen Institute Board. The program encourages promising high school students, many from minority groups, to enter health science careers. Students are recruited with the help of science department chairs from Chicago schools and are assigned to work under the supervision of scientists and physicians in nephrology, urology, molecular biology, cellular biology, and tissue culture for a minimum of eight weeks. During this time they learn routine laboratory work and perform basic tests under the supervision of a staff member. They also carry out library assignments, participate in experiments, and attend lectures and conferences. This program is part of Hektoen’s commitment to advance science and develop better health care systems. It gives students an opportunity to interact with scientists, helps to prepare them to make educational choices, and encourages them to set career goals in the health sciences.
In some instances the program has evolved from a summer experience in research to a more continuous experience in which some students participate for more than one year. By returning for a second summer (and sometimes part-time throughout the school year), the students have had the opportunity to acquire more in-depth experience and build on the skills they already mastered. The repeat students know that their training and expertise are determinant factors in their selection for a second summer, thus giving them performance incentives, a greater sense of accomplishment, and a greater commitment to pursue a career in science.
Students who work on specific projects have the opportunity to present their work at science fairs at their home school and to participate in science scholarship competitions resulting in important recognition for the program.
Since the inception of the program a working relationship has developed with the school science departments, who now know what the program offers because of the positive feedback from the students. They send their top students in the biological sciences, high school class valedictorians, and state-level science fair winners. Several students have become recipients of scholarships, become finalists in talent search competitions, and eventually enrolled in prestigious university programs. They have co-authored abstracts and papers, an obvious testimony to the mission of the program in that they were able to perform meaningful research and obtain publishable results. Because of the training and expertise they acquired, students have had better opportunities for part-time jobs while in college.