Monell Science Apprenticeship Program: Celebrating Over 40 Years of Growing Roots in Science

For more than 40 years, the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program (MSAP) has grown to become a pillar of mentorship, one of five core values of Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Mentorship that stimulates interest in science is crucial for the next generations of scientists. “This is why MSAP’s mission is about empowering science as much as it is about empowering people,” says MSAP Director Dr. Paul Breslin. “Making science exclusive to certain people weakens it, while accessibility brings in new perspectives and strengths. It is also a social justice endeavor. MSAP provides young people from underrepresented communities with some of the tools that allow them to succeed as scientists.”

Apprentices join the Monell labs for a few weeks over the summer to work on a multitude of projects that aim to familiarize them with the process of science. As they design their experiments, collect data, analyze results, and present them, “it’s important to encourage young people to see themselves as scientists and help them build confidence in their science identity,” says MSAP Mentor Dr. Emily Mayhew. “Working with students who are new to research makes you appreciate your work even more as you see it through fresh eyes.”

However, designing a whole project that is only meant to run for 7-8 weeks may pose some challenges to mentors, especially when things don’t go according to plan. For MSAP Mentor Dr. Peihua Jiang, this is more of an opportunity than a challenge. He adds: “It’s just how science works; experiments can fail or not go as expected. As young scientists, the process matters more than the end goal. The real value is in what our mentees learn along the way regardless of the success or failure of a project.”

MSAP Mentor Dr. Mackenzie Hannum agrees that mentorship comes with lots of learning opportunities for mentees as well as their mentors. “Hearing a mentee’s initial reaction to a test we’re doing or a survey we’re designing allows me to take a major step back and think about the bigger picture, the impact that early exposure to science can have, and the strategies I can implement to set my mentee up for success,” says Dr. Hannum.

As their summer approaches its final days, students and mentors work together in preparation for a capstone symposium. The symposium represents a special moment for students who celebrate their work as science apprentices. They create posters and develop presentations detailing the goals and results of the experiments they worked on, aiming share their summer experience and the product of their work with scientists and family members.

Mentors Dr. Johannes Reisert and Dr. Danielle Reed tell us that the symposium also represents a special moment for mentors as they wrap up each summer. In Dr. Reisert’s words: “It is always so refreshing to see the enthusiasm and pride of their work when they present their poster. You can see how this is playing an important role in their lives.” And Dr. Reed adds: “It is really amazing to see somebody walk in the door not knowing anything about an area but then able to turn into somebody that can ask questions about it.

MSAP Director Dr. Paul Breslin, Co-Director Dr. Joel Mainland, and the MSAP class of 2021 on their last day.

As Monell celebrates a new class of MSAP students, we take this opportunity to highlight the anniversary of a program that has been preparing young people for careers in science over the last four decades. As Dr. Breslin describes it, this is a moment to consider the future of MSAP and how the program can be blueprinted for other institutions to find guidance in Monell’s experience with mentorship. But most importantly, it is also a moment to emphasize the twofold mission of empowering science through inclusivity and empowering people through social justice.

For a recording of the 2021 capstone symposium, please click here.