Jhaline Mast is not your typical high school student. Currently a senior at Claremont High School, Mast participated in the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) High School Summer STEM Program in the summer of 2017. When the internship ended, she was asked to continue conducting research in the lab and she agreed. Now she is volunteering at KGI three days a week.
“This has been an amazing opportunity,” Mast said. “I love being in the KGI lab and it makes me really happy.”
The High School Summer STEM Program—led by KGI Assistant Professor Kiana Aran—offers a limited number of unpaid internship opportunities to exceptionally motivated and academically strong high school students to gain hands-on research experience and learn about the pursuit of a science or engineering related college education and professional career.
The internship runs in parallel with KGI’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program. High school students work under the supervision of a KGI faculty mentor, initially shadow undergraduate students and other researchers at KGI, and are then able to engage in a small, well-defined research project matched to their skills and knowledge. High school students are also able to participate in SURE program activities such as seminars and workshops.
Mast’s route to KGI—similar to her life—had some ups and downs.
“Originally, I was not selected to the internship, but I came to KGI and personally handed my application to Kiana directly,” said Mast. “I always feel like it’s a good idea to meet people in person and put a face to a name. Kiana told me that she saw herself in my actions and decided to give me an internship spot.”
The reason that Mast was not initially selected from among the strong pool of high school applicants was because she didn’t have as many extracurricular activities on her resume as other students.
“When I was 13, my mother was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer, and I spent all my time at home taking care of her,” said Mast. “As a result, I didn’t have time to add any extra classes or extracurriculars on top of school because of my responsibilities at home.”
Fortunately, Mast’s mother entered remission by the time her junior year of high school rolled around, and she was able to get back on her feet again.
“Jhaline made an effort and came to talk to me in person about her interests and why she wanted to do research,” said Aran. “That’s the reason I encouraged her to volunteer in the lab.”
Last summer, Mast worked on developing modules for a blood exchange system for aging applications, separating cellular components from the blood.
“Jhaline showed she could work independently and didn’t need micromanaging,” said Aran. “She looks at a problem and tries to solve it on her own. She was very reliable and had an amazing work ethic. That’s why we asked her to continue in the lab after the summer internship ended.”
Mast’s interest in science started as a child, and for the longest time, she thought she would become a doctor. But after volunteering in a hospital as a general supply runner, she realized it wasn’t for her. Instead, she learned about scientific research and thought it might be a good fit. It wasn’t until she got the internship at KGI that she realized scientific research was for her.
“I want to use my life to do something good, and scientific research is where I can do the most good,” she said.
And if it wasn’t for science, Mast would not be alive today.
“I had a kidney removed when I was three months old,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone to the hospital that day, I would have died.
I feel like I was given a second chance in life. That’s why I feel so lucky to have turned in my application to Kiana.”