UCSF Reaches Out to Young Scientists

Graduate Division

The pigskins were laid out on benches (like so many uncooked slabs of pork belly) as I watched), as a second-year medical student used a scalpel to slash deep wounds that would need repair. Within minutes, the quiet classroom on UCSF Parnassus campus was transformed, as 20 high schoolers streamed in, antsy after a morning of presentations and ready for some hands-on activity.

For the next 20 minutes, they poked and prodded and made some careful slip stitches, all under the watchful eye of their UCSF student counselors.

Every summer, as UCSF professional students head off to internships and summer vacations, a younger cohort streams in. These students, from San Francisco-area schools and ranging in age from 8 to 18, arrive on campus to learn about science and science careers through a variety of camps organized through UCSF. 

Three camps in particular stand out for the investment that UCSF students put in to serve as mentors for these camps: PITCH, Bio Bootcamp and the School of Pharmacy’s Summer Science Camp.


PITCH, or the Program for Investigation and Training for Careers in Health, is a three-week program in July for rising high-school juniors from San Francisco Unified School District. It is meant to “inspire and expose students to a wide range of opportunities and careers within health care and science,” according to the program’s coordinator, Anthea Lim.

PITCH students are introduced to research projects, listen to speakers from UCSF talk about their careers and participate in activities such as a suturing workshop and creating dental molds. In addition, students get one-on-one career advice and college guidance meant to help propel them toward a career in the health sciences.

“It is great to see the students really blossom in a supportive environment where they can explore their unique interests in the health profession,” said Maria Quezada, a second-year UCSF medical student and PITCH volunteer. “The counselors also learned a lot about the great work that is being done at UCSF.”

In late September, PITCH will be offering a free planning event for SFUSD seniors and parents/guardians who are planning to apply to college this fall.

“We have various workshops to attend, including UC, CSU, private and community college Admissions, Personal Statements and Financial Aid, which will be presented in Cantonese, English, and Spanish,” said Lim.

Bio Bootcamp

Bio Bootcamp is a new program organized by SACNAS, or the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science at UCSF, for San Francisco Mission High students in late June. The program introduced 22 Mission High sophomores to biomedical research and careers in medicine, through visits to museums and San Francisco universities and hands-on experiments with 30 UCSF SACNAS students.

“Working with high school students on a research project was humbling, eye-opening and fun,” said Daniel Johengen, a SACNAS volunteer for Bio Bootcamp. “It is easy to lose perspective of the long process that shapes a person’s ideas and understanding of the world, so it was a fun challenge to answer the students’ questions in a way that provided them the logic and the answer.”

At the end of their program, students presented their research for family and SACNAS students to celebrate the culmination of their hard work. “The Bio Bootcamp Program was well received by Mission High,” said Sergio Saenz, the program’s coordinator, “and we are excited about the possibilities of having Bio Bootcamp at more San Francisco Unified High Schools in the future.”


CampUCSF Summer Science Camp is a one-week free camp in July run by the School of Pharmacy for San Francisco area children in the fifth and sixth grades. This year, third-year pharmacy student Anthony Wong organized the camp with the help of fellow UCSF student counselors. Fifty kids were arranged into five groups headed by two UCSF Pharmacy student counselors.

Children participated in a number of fun, scientific activities meant to inspire the mind, like an egg-drop experiment, boat making and the launching of bottle-rockets from Koret quad. Participants even raced their boats in the UCSF gym pool. In addition to their time spent at UCSF, children were taken to the California Academy of Sciences and elsewhere.

At the end of the Summer Science Camp, counselors held a graduation ceremony for students and their families to celebrate their time at UCSF. Students streamed in to Cole Hall to watch slide shows of their activities and receive prizes for “future scientist” and other notable accomplishments. Even though their time was short, it was clear that these students had formed a bond with their UCSF counselors and with each other. At the end of their graduation ceremony,  asked what the best part of summer camp was, one camper answered, with the careful deliberation of a scientist, “It’s a hard choice.  Everything was my favorite.”