Opening Windows of Science at the Harlem Society
Every morning over the summer 16 year old Sobella Quezada woke up at 7 am at her home in the South Bronx to get ready for work. After a 40 minute subway commute, Quezada arrived at a molecular cytology care facility in Manhattan where she researched apoptosis and rapid multiplication of a specific cell population. Her day technically ended at 5 pm but there were many days she was there longer.
"I could've worked in McDonald's, but I decided not to settle for mediocre," said Quezada.
Thanks to the Harlem Children's Society, Quezada and 12 others from under-privileged neighborhoods in New York didn't have to settle for mediocre. Instead they spent the summer researching everything from heart attacks to cancer research.
"I always wanted to study medicine," said Quezada. "This [summer] reaffirmed what I want to do with science and it made me more conscious of the different aspects of science."
A ceremony at Rockefeller University recognized students and mentors for their work and participation in the program. Dr. Sat Bhattacharya, founder of Harlem Children's Society said the program was started in June 2000 to expose students to opportunities available in science and to promote an innovational science program.
"My dream is to get science onto the street," said Bhattacharya. "People in Harlem, the Bronx, should be able to talk about issues like cloning because they are all concerned about this."
In addition, Bhattacharya said there is another goal to his program. "What I really hope is for them to give back to the community," he said adding the importance of people initiating change in their own society.
And 17-year-old honoree, Willie Collado said he plans to do just that. Next year he heads off to college to study medicine. Collado said being a doctor is a win/win situation.
"You are successful and you are giving back to the community," said Collado.
Bhattacharya said students selected to work at one of the eight participating organizations like Rockefeller University, Columbia University, and Sloan Kettering, are chosen for their motivation, enthusiasm and performance at school.
Sixteen-year-old Swapan Bhuiyan said he learned "a great deal" during his internship at Sloan Kettering Biostatistics where he studied mathematical cancer research.
"It's very important for doctors to know if they give a patient pills, they [the doctors] know the effects," said the student from Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. "These are the things sophomores at college learn. I was blessed with the opportunity to do research like this at this age."
New York City Department of Education, Chancellor Joel Klein agreed that this program is an enormous opportunity for the students.
"One of life's greatest rewards is when you work with kids to help them reach for the stars," said Klein who credited Bhattacharya by saying, "Sat proved that one person can make a difference."
Klein added that another ingredient to succeeding is passion.
If you live your passions, not other people's expectations, you will have a life that is rich and meaningful," said the Chancellor who spoke about his own upbringing in public housing in Queens. He credits a physics teacher for helping him reach for the stars. "There is a lot of world out there, you take your shot, don't let any one ever tell you about the limitations, you bust through them."
Dr. Tshaka Cunningham, a HIV researcher at Rockefeller University, agreed. "There is nothing that can stop you," he said to the audience. "All you have to do is say 'I can do it.'"
And it seemed that many of the students have taken those words to heart. Especially Quezada who said many people thought she wasn't going to succeed in this program.#.