Science program targets underprivileged students


Dejanae Holloway of Oakland never imagined she would be in a lab working with bacteria and enzymes.

"I wanted to get a feel for what science really was; it's not just dissecting things, it's actually making a change in the world," Holloway said.

Six high school students from Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco and Oakland were selected from 90 applicants for the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology.

Clem Fortman, the co-founder of the program, is a scientist at the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville.

When selecting the students, he does not look at their grades; instead the program picks kids from underserved neighborhoods with no family history of college education. Their teacher must recommend them for the program.

"Most programs, you have to pay lots of money to get into private schools and learn summer programs, but this one is free and you actually get paid for it, so this is one of the few that can help underprivileged kids learn science," Berkeley High School student Emiliano Ruiz said.

All the students from last year's program went on to college.

For eight weeks, they study how bacteria help break down the cellulose in plant walls to eventually make biodiesel.

While learning, they earn a $2,500 stipend.

"It's a lot easier to go to college and get a cushy lab job than it is to deliver Coca-Cola your whole life or move beer kegs or any number of things. At some point you got to work hard you might as well do it in college," Fortman said.

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