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V.I. STEMMPREP Project Seeks High Achieving 7th, 8th and 9th Grade Students for Training Program

STEMMPREP Lab Experiences at the University of Washington (Photo by Tony Merritt)

With a new deadline of Feb. 29, the Distance Learning Center (DLC) is recruiting high-achieving seventh, eighth, and ninth graders for the summer of 2024 to participate in a five to eight-week STEMMPREP Project at the University of Washington, Seattle. 

Driven by a longitudinal training model for the past 34 years, the STEMMPREP Project supports a national pool of seventh to 12th graders across a ten-year pipeline (junior high, senior high and college) and a multi-institutional mentorship approach. These interns are rotated through STEM labs in academia, the government, private research institutes and the pharmaceutical industry. The project provides a year-round support platform to its national pool of interns.

The DLC is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities [African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Mainland Puerto Ricans] in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM).


CEO/Executive Director Dr. Moses L. Williams Jr. – Statement of Need:

“While physicians from numerous disciplines are products of Virgin Islands schools, there are an insufficient number of physicians in Neurology, Pathology, and Infectious Disease. No substantial number of physicians in our community are researchers. Therefore, there is a need for students from the V.I. community to be recruited and guided into biomedical research to study cures for diseases that affect the V.I. community.”

The internal data shows that 100 percent of the interns attended college, 90 percent graduated from college, 89 percent of the interns completed the Project’s 10-year regimen, and 83 percent of the college seniors have gone into graduate STEM programs.

V.I./PR Student Recruitment Coordinator Charlene Abramson Joseph shared the V.I. STEMMPREP history with the Source: “The first cadres of Virgin Islands interns were admitted into the program in summer of 2003 and students have participated for seventeen summers, with two to six V.I. interns selected in the Spring of each year. To date, thirteen local schools and approximately 66 interns have completed the summer internships.” 

Students in the STEMMPREP Project have entered and completed programs at the following institutions:

7th and 8th grade- University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 

9th and 10th grade- Philadelphia College of Medicine; Drexel University, Philadelphia; Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

11th and 12th grade- Oregon Health Science University, Portland

Dates for this year’s program:

7th and 8th grade: June 29 – Aug. 3

9th and 10th grade: June 22 – Aug. 10

11th and 12th grade: June 15 – Aug. 10

STEMMPREP Lab Experiences at the University of Washington (Photo by Tony Merritt)

The many benefits offered in this program prepare students for AP level science courses, preparation for Biomedicine, above grade level scientific knowledge, participation in a positive peer network, exposure to a diverse group of students from across the country, and they become school community ambassadors for the STEMMPREP Project.

Joseph encourages families to participate and to take advantage of the small window offered with the upcoming deadline of Feb. 29. If students are interested in the program and feel it is a good fit for them, do not focus on the cost only – because if this will advance them in their academic career, we will try to help them participate, she said. 

“Don’t let ‘I don’t have the money’ be an excuse. If there is a student who really wants to go – if there is the drive and the interest and a student really wants to do that – money is not the only thing,” she said. 

Joseph tells the story of a student whose church held a fundraiser for him to attend and he attended for more than one year. Another student’s family members came together and each pooled together enough to send her to the program. It can be done, Joseph said.

The program costs are $6,000 per intern. Tuition is due April 1.

STEMMPREP Lab Experiences at the University of Washington (Photo by Tony Merritt)

Joseph applies to the V.I. Lottery every year to assist V.I. students who cannot pay and praises the V.I. Lottery for coming through with donations that have enabled V.I. students to attend. This year, the V.I. Lottery awarded the program a donation of $7,600. “I’m sending three from the V.I. this year: one from St. Thomas, two from St. Croix, and one from college.” The V.I. Port of Authority has also helped, Joseph said.

“I think the STEMMPREP Project is one of the best STEM programs of this kind. It not only exposes the students to academia, but also to the pharmaceutical industry and private laboratories. The DLC STEMMPREP Project seeks to prepare V.I. students to become the next generation of physicians and scientists,” Joseph told the Source.

“The program doesn’t get a lot of press because we can’t serve the critical population. We need students who have the grades, who have the rigor to apply, and now – in this season, whose parents have the money to apply.”

Joseph has been working with the STEMM Project for 17 summers since 2003. There were four students who applied that year. Two got in. Joseph is in contact with one, Leah Guthrie, who is a researcher today at Stanford University and holds a Ph.D. “I am very proud of her,” Joseph said.

Joseph joined the program before her retirement from the Education Department as Language Arts coordinator for the St. Croix district. Her concern is that there won’t be individuals to sustain the program and who have the passion that she and her colleagues possess. The program needs younger people, she said, who can keep the program going for another 30-50 years. 

In previous years, John H. Woodson and Elena Christian students could participate because the program was well-funded to pay for airline tickets and food allowances, and the 11th and 12th graders even received a stipend. Since 2016, the funding has been lost. The Department of Defense, the National Institute for Health, the National Science Foundation, and some pharmaceutical companies funded the program from 2003 to 2016. 

“We are looking at the next generation. We need V.I. researchers to study the diseases that plague the people of the territory…the place we call home…the people who are our family,” Joseph said. 

STEMMPREP Lab Experiences at the University of Washington (Photo by Tony Merritt)

The program provides the whole package, Joseph continued. Students are trained academically, socially, and holistically – they can come from any background and maintain the excellence offered to them. 

The program is invitational. Once a student is accepted, that person has to be invited back the next year. It depends on the student’s performance and participation in the previous summer. Most of the V.I. students are usually invited back. 

For over 15 years, Joseph has attended end-of-summer symposiums where she has seen V.I. students get up and “strut their stuff” and make her proud, she said. Last year, Maya Griffith won the symposium presentation for the V.I. group for her research and presented it to her peers. “It warms my heart. The V.I. students perform as well or better than students from all over the country. When they present, they are speaking the language of Ph.Ds.”

When students return back to school after the summer, they are already equipped and can handle the class expectations because they are prepared for a higher level of STEM courses and AP Biology and AP Chemistry. They can take the rigors of lab safety, lab procedure, and lab protocol.

Joseph is encouraging families to take the opportunity now with this small window of the Feb. 29 deadline. The information is below. 

Application Process: Enrollment is now open online: http://www.thedistancelearningcenter.org 

New deadline: Feb. 29

Student Eligibility: Applicants should be an “A” student for the last three years. Letter(s) of recommendation from middle school STEM teachers, scores from previous or current year’s standardized tests, and an essay stating why the applicant wants to pursue a career in science.

Contact: Charlene Abramson Joseph

Senior Recruiter – DLC STEMMPREP Project

P.O. Box 634, Frederiksted, VI 00841

Cell: 340-513-4883

Email: mattedconsult@gmail.com


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