By Meghan McCarthy
Asa Sam has spent only about two months with the Penn Memory Center (PMC), but the experience has made an impact on the rest of her professional life.
“I can faithfully say that PMC has already impacted my future,” said Sam, a 2022 Summer Scholar. “Being a part of this program was a way to verify and solidify my career path of neurosurgery, while also keeping my mind open to multiple paths in geriatrics and remaining engaged in Alzheimer’s research.”
This past summer, six undergraduate students joined PMC for mentorship, clinical shadowing, and exposure to career options within the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).
The program invites undergraduate and graduate students who identify as Black or African American to apply, and encourages previous students to return if interested.
“There are a lot of disparities within ADRD,” said PMC Research and Training Coordinator Xandria West. “From having Black participants in our research studies to having a diverse clinician population, the premise of this program is to promote diversity within this field.”
This targeted approach was appealing to the undergraduate applicants.
“This internship initially stood out to me because it was targeted for students who identify as Black or African American. I’ve always been passionate about diversity and inclusion and had an interest in progressive neurological diseases,” said Summer Scholar La’cendria Pulley.
Each student experience is unique and tailored to individual needs. Students were paired with mentors whose work aligns with their research interests.
“I mentored Sebleh Alfa, a Penn psychology undergrad, and we worked together on a project related to cognitive reserve in ALS. We submitted our research abstract for the next International Neuropsychological Society meeting. She also got to shadow FTD Center clinicians to get a glimpse into patient care and help inform her professional goals,” said Emma Rhodes, PhD, MA, PMC Clark Scholar and Summer Scholar mentor.
Beyond research, they had many opportunities for clinical shadowing. Students attended weekly consensus conferences, at which complex patient cases were reviewed. Many also shadowed hospital rounds and even observed surgery.
“This summer was an incredibly immersive experience,” said West.
Sam, one of the six participating students, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked three mentors: Leslie Shaw, PhD; Leah Fein, MPH, MSW, LSW; and Terry Schuck.
“With Dr. Shaw, I learned about the biofluid lab and detecting pathologies in the brain for Alzheimer’s disease. With Leah, I got to shadow physician-patient visits and social worker-patient meetings. With Terry, I worked in the Brain Bank where I made paraffin blocks for brain tissue and learned about the processes of preserving the tissue,” said Sam.
A highlight of her experience was the hands-on component of the program, and by the end of the summer, Asa felt confident in her career aspirations.
A graduate student in Drexel’s Interdisciplinary Health Science Program, Pulley shares Sam’s sentiment:
“My summer experience at PMC allowed me to see the integration of clinical research and medical care in a hospital setting. During medical school, I highly would consider specializing in neurology.”
After a successful second year, PMC will continue hosting students next summer, and encourages previous scholars to return if interested.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the final presentations for the whole group of summer scholars and was really impressed with the depth and breadth of experiences represented,” said Dr. Rhodes. “Their enthusiasm was contagious, and it was truly a joy to witness a small portion of what they learned and accomplished over the summer.”
Currently, undergraduate and graduate students with Pennsylvania residence are invited to apply. For application criteria and program information, please click here.