SummerLab: A Promising Practice in Expanded Access to Biotechnology for Students with Disabilities

Date Updated

In 1996, Boston University's School of Medicine's (BUSM) CityLab launched SummerLab: an intensive one-week exposure to a life sciences laboratory for high school students who seek a deeper understanding of basic techniques and concepts related to DNA science.

With financial support from the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program, SummerLab has evolved into a model program that fully integrates students with disabilities into genuine laboratory experiences.

Working in teams, participants assume the role of a biotechnology company. They work together to learn and perform molecular biological techniques for recombinant protein synthesis, protein isolation, and protein purification. The program developers report that participants "are given the freedom to design and plan their own experiments, while at the same time providing the support to help them learn from their mistakes". At the end of the camp session the teams present their research findings via poster presentations to their parents, friends, and BUSM faculty members. While at SummerLab participants also explore science careers by touring local biotechnology companies and discussing science career opportunities.

The SummerLab program is a promising practice in increasing the number of students with disabilities who consider science education and careers early in their academic careers by providing hands-on, real-world lab experiences. In the words of SummerLab creators, "it opens doors for youth with disabilities who might not have had an opportunity to appreciate the tremendous career opportunities that are available in the sciences.... Students with disabilities are often particularly suited to pursue science because they possess the intellectual capacity to become independent thinkers, but often they (and their families and teachers) do not see the path to a science career. This program will provide a new pathway for students with disabilities to explore science careers."

For more information about SummerLab and other programs CityLab offers middle and high school students, recent high school graduates, and educators, visit the Boston University CityLab homepage.