Training for High School Students

The Aging Institute is committed to promoting scientific literacy and encouraging participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. As part of this mission, the Aging Institute participates in programs which promote early scientific engagement, exposure, and education for high school and undergraduate students.

Hillman Academy Summer Program

Since 2019, the Aging Institute has welcomed high school students from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy, an award-winning immersive summer program which engages high school students in cutting-edge research and career preparatory experiences. The program strives to provide students with hands-on research and mentorship opportunities, expose students to career and academic career pathways, and promote diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.

Students in the Hillman Academy come from both the local Pittsburgh area and across the country to spend the summer being mentored by faculty members across the University of Pittsburgh. These students have regular social and educational program events with the full cohort of Hillman Academy Scholars, as well as activities specific to their site placement. The Aging Institute participates in the Hillman Academy as part of the Technology Drive X site, which includes other University of Pittsburgh and UPMC laboratories on Technology Drive.

Mentorship – Faculty members and their labs develop students’ scientific and technical skills through mentorship and exposure to on-going laboratory research.  In addition to training students, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and other laboratory staff have the opportunity to practice and develop their own teaching and mentoring skills.

Tech Talks – At Technology Drive X, students attend weekly presentations by faculty and mentors about their educational background, career pathway, and current research.  These talks are an opportunity for students to gain a greater understanding of STEM careers and to pose questions to faculty and staff in the field.  In the summer of 2022, Andrew Duncan, PhD, of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Stacey J. Sukoff Rizzo, PhD, and Aditi Gurkar, PhD—both of the Aging Institute—presented Tech Talks.  In addition to these individual speakers, Technology Drive X held a panel of trainees and recent graduates.

Work-in-Progress – Every Friday, Technology Drive X students present their on-going work to program mentors and other students in their cohort.  These weekly meetings are an informal venue for the students to discuss their progress, develop oral presentation skills, and practice asking and answering questions about research projects. The summer program culminates in a written abstract and public presentation of the students’ research projects.

Summer 2022

In Summer 2022, the Aging Institute welcomed three Hillman Academy high school students from the Pittsburgh area:  Elise Chu, Franco Alvarez, and Oluwatomisin (Tomi) Olaore.  These students worked full-time over the summer to complete individual research projects at the Aging Institute with oversight from faculty mentors and their labs:

  • Franco Alvarez worked on a project related to the effects of methionine on osteoblasts (“Effects of Methionine on Osteoblast Differentiation”) under the mentorship of  Matthew Steinhauser, MD, and his lab, including Postdoctoral Associate, Tânia Amorim, PhD.
  • Elise Chu worked on a project aimed at reducing replication of the coronavirus (“Using the Ubiquitin System to Reduce Replication of the Coronavirus”) under the mentorship of Beibei (Bill) Chen, PhD, and his lab, including Postdoctoral Associate, Travis B. Lear, PhD and Technician, Áine Boudreau.
  • Tomi Olaore worked on a project to understand the relationship between proteins, mitochondria, and cancer cells (“PARL (Presenilins-associated rhomboid-like protein) inhibitor impairs mitochondria function and causes necrosis in cancer cells”) under the mentorship of Yuan Liu, PhD, and Xiaojun (Jay) Tan, PhD, and their labs, including Graduate Student, Qing Cao.

Program Leadership

Hillman Academy Leadership:

David Boone, PhD, Executive Director of Hillman Academy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics

Joseph Ayoob, PhD, Associate Director of Hillman Academy, Associate Professor in Computational and Systems Biology

Steven Jones, Project Manager

Technology Drive X Site Directors:

Andrew Duncan, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology at McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Serafina Lanna, Project Manager at the Aging Institute

Current and Previous Aging Institute Faculty Mentors: Toren Finkel, MD, PhD; Beibei (Bill) Chen, PhD; Aditi Gurkar, PhD; Yuan Liu, PhD; Andrey Parkhitko, PhD; Matthew Steinhauser, MD; Xiaojun (Jay) Tan, PhD


Hillman Academy

Technology Drive X: