iCLEM Experience

Created in 2008, the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) program provides Bay Area youth from communities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences with paid research internships in state-of-the-art labs. iCLEM targets high potential, low-income high school students who have a deep interest in science or engineering and for whom this program would provide the critical difference in pursuing a higher education degree and a career in science. The high teacher-to-student ratio ensures intensive hands-on assistance for students in both the lab and classroom throughout the workday. In addition to training the students in basic science and research, the program exposes students to industry field trips, career exploration, and preparation for the college admissions process.

Begun by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc) and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), the program is now based entirely at JBEI. iCLEM is a multi-layered program that connects students with high school teachers, undergraduate students who are majoring in science at a UC institution, rotating science advisors that conduct research at JBEI, and the JBEI education and outreach team. From these connections, mentorship occurs at multiple levels. Since 2008, iCLEM has trained 74 high school students and 30 teachers and teachers-to-be. 98% of iCLEM students are low-income, and the majority are immigrants or the children of immigrants. 85% are the first generation to attend college. 98% of iCLEM students go on to college and more than 80% plan to major in science or engineering.

Program Highlights for Summer 2019:

  • Receive a stipend of $2000 and a travel stipend for the eight-week program from June 17 to August 7, 2019.
  • Complete a hands-on, real-world research project in a state-of-the-art laboratory mentored by JBEI researchers and UC undergrads.
  • Learn fundamental concepts in microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biofuels, and synthetic biology.
  • Prepare for the college admission process – write and revise a personal statement and learn about admissions requirements and financial aid.
  • Explore careers through discussions with STEM professionals and visits to local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
  • Gain skills and confidence in communicating scientific research.

Below are perspectives from the different groups based on their experiences and projects conducted in iCLEM:

2018 iCLEM: Students Share Their Highlights
2017 iCLEM: Weekly Blogs
2014 iCLEM student Danyelle Cross: iCLEM Experience
2014 iCLEM student Karen Ochoa: Personal Statement
2014 iCLEM science advisor Jennifer Hiras: iCLEM Experience
2015 iCLEM teaching assistant Hannah Spinner: Research or Education: Why Choose?

More on the iCLEM Research Project
News stories about iCLEM

2018 iCLEM: Students Share Their Highlights
The 2018 iCLEM cohort shares in their own words highlights of their summer experience at JBEI. Click to learn what the eight students think of their time at iCLEM.

iCLEM 2017: Weekly Blogs

Are you wondering what a typical day is like at the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) program?

Each student participating in iCLEM’s 2017 cohort has put together a weekly blog describing their experiences working in a state-of-the-art laboratory during this eight week summer science intensive. Click here to read the blogs!

Danyelle Cross: iCLEM student, 2014

iCLEM 2014 High School Students at JBEI (Joint BioEnergy Institute) - student working photos - Danyelle Cross. Coming into iCLEM, I had no expectations because I had no lab experience. I also did not know what a microbiologist is. What was their job or mission? When I finally got accepted to be a part of the JBEI team through iCLEM, I was very excited because I knew I would work with great scientists and learn techniques needed to succeed in a lab.

I would have to say my favorite part about being in iCLEM was being able to actually work in the lab. I learned procedures I could take back to school and share with my peers. iCLEM also helped me with non-scientific things like writing my personal statement, which will help me be more competitive when applying to college. iCLEM also taught me how to be more professional in the work setting in terms of behavior and communication. iCLEM made me feel confident in my lab techniques, and even more confident in my writing skills. I would like to thank JBEI, iCLEM, and everyone who contributed to helping me get into iCLEM for allowing me to have this experience in microbiology at a college level bases before I could even graduate high school. I am very grateful.

Karen Ochoa: iCLEM student, 2014

iCLEM 2014 High School Students at JBEI (Joint BioEnergy Institute) - student working photos - Karen Ochoa.As I walked into the building on my first day of work I dreaded every step I took, not because I was going to work, but because I had to meet new people.

I was never good at making friends, and I was often isolated and forgotten. Well, if that was the case, then I would avoid making connections.

As I entered the classroom I stayed quiet at first, trying to avoid connections but, eventually everyone started to talk to me. I was shocked, but I felt welcomed.

The little things like taking me to the library, helping me with my personal statement, answering my questions, and a simple “good morning.” Those are some things that people take for granted, but for me it meant everything.

Although the end is near, the chains of science turn into the chains of friendship. No. They are the chains of a family that bind us together.

May it be the teachers, the undergraduates, post docs, or students, they are now my second family and JBEI has become my second home.

No matter how far we travel or what path we take, the chains will always bind us.

You might not be able to tell, but I am dreading this speech. Not because I am out of my comfort zone, but because as soon as I finish my speech, the closer we are to the end of the program. And I am afraid to say “good bye” and never have contact, so I will just say “see you soon.”

Jennifer Hiras: iCLEM science advisor, 2014

JenniferHiras2014_400sqJoining the Joint BioEnergy Institute as a postdoctoral researcher marked my first professional job as a microbiologist after completing graduate school. Once I joined the Deconstruction Division at JBEI, I became an independent scientist who could manage projects and students efficiently. I saw previous iCLEM cohorts come and go and was immediately interested in giving high school students a practical lab experience. I had participated in many science and education outreach programs and hoped one day I could be part of the iCLEM family. As one of the 2014 iCLEM science advisors, I finally got my wish.

The iCLEM program is unique in that it gives high-potential, low-income high school students a chance to work as professionals in a prestigious, government-funded National Laboratory. An early introduction to life as a scientist can have profound effects on their career choices as adults. Choosing the right candidates was one of the biggest challenges we faced. During the admissions process, we found there were many qualified applicants that would benefit from this program. Applicants that stood out were those whose interest in science was clear, but came from schools that fell short on resources. I’m happy to say we assembled a wonderful group of students that were bright, interested in science, and eager to learn.

Ten plus years out of high school myself, I was unsure of what to expect of the students. I knew the students would struggle with difficult concepts, but this is why partnerships with high school teachers and JBEI researchers are so incredible: The teachers absorb the lab mindset, and then expertly convey it to their students. One of our lab experiments put this learning to the challenge. The test – an assay to measure glucose – repeatedly failed and students couldn’t understand why. As teachers explored with students how the assay worked, the students began to understand what went wrong and work out the next steps to take. That troubleshooting and reasoning are integral to the scientific process. Struggling actually helps you learn. Now I knew the students would rise to any challenge. I was impressed with their capacity to always try again.

Seeing the students develop professionally was also fulfilling. Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for the professionalism among sixteen year olds. For most of them, this was their first paid summer internship, and giving up summer vacation for a 9-to-5 job is asking a lot. Once again, the students rose to the challenge. They took advantage of iCLEM’s resources for college preparation. Students received training in office etiquette, public speaking, resume building, and more. Their new skills were put to the test at the end of the summer when they delivered a fantastic scientific seminar to over 50 people. Working one-on-one with students to correct bad habits during public speaking was rewarding. I felt pride during the final seminar when each student delivered a perfect speech.

Overall, I was impressed with the students’ quality of work and their dedication to science this summer. Students were plunged into a new environment and forced to interact professionally from the beginning. It was a big learning curve. Getting to know the students individually was rewarding, and each of them has incredible potential to succeed in college and beyond. Training to become a scientist develops critical thinking, logic, and leadership skills. No matter the career path these students take, I am satisfied that they will use the lessons taught in the iCLEM program to shine in the future.

Hannah Spinner: iCLEM teaching assistant, 2015

HannahSpinner2014_600sqWhen I began my undergraduate degree in Genetics and Plant Biology at UC Berkeley (UCB), I was convinced that I wanted to go into botanical research. What’s cooler than plants, right? In my first semester’s schedule, I had the perfect balance of classes, organic chemistry, calculus, and environmental history, but I still needed two more units for the minimum class requirement. I was looking and looking when I stumbled upon a class where I could teach Kindergarten students about science, unknowingly taking the first step in the Cal Teach Science and Math Education minor at UCB. In this class I learned how passionate I am about teaching, science, and youth. Since then, I’ve been taking classes for the minor while remaining enthusiastic about plants and research. This poses a dilemma: do I want to be a researcher or a teacher? The answer to this question changes daily (sometimes hourly…). Both are incredible careers that have the potential to change the lives of those around me for the better.

I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) program this summer, a program that perfectly combines teaching and research. During my time at iCLEM I taught the students about the college application process, with my teaching assistant partner Allegra Nottoli, and scientific concepts like gel electrophoresis and PCR. I honestly can’t tell if I enjoyed interacting with the students more than the research or vice versa. Every day I had the opportunity to teach in a window-less classroom lit up by smiling, cheery, and genuinely excited faces and talk about microbiology. Every day I also experimented in a beautiful, state-of-the-art laboratory at the Joint BioEnergy Institute filled with incredible scientists. The students, and myself, learned so much over such a short summer. I will definitely miss all of the horseplay in the classroom (like harmless teasing about being vegan), excitement in the lab (like when we found the identity of our bacteria), and most of all spending time together (like playing kickball in the park).

I’m still in limbo with my career, but I now know there’s a possibility of combining my two passions. In fact, I’ve learned that education and research go hand in hand. During the last week of work, Shaila Kotadia, the iCLEM program manager, Allegra, and I went out to lunch at Café Gratitude and their question of the day was “what are you grateful for?” The answer was simple: I am grateful for this summer.

iCLEM Research Project

The research project carried out by iCLEM students over their summer at JBEI is closely tied to the overall scientific mission at JBEI to efficiently convert plant material to transportation fuels and other related products. To produce large amounts of biofuels, researchers engineer enzymes or microbes to break down sugars locked up in plant cellulose and convert them to biofuels.

iCLEM students work together with JBEI researchers to identifying bacteria that can efficiently break down plant cellulose using cellulase enzymes. Students harvest microbes from soil, compost, or other environments where cellulose-eating microbes are abundant and active. The microbes are grown in the lab, and then screened to find those with the most efficient cellulase enzymes. Using advanced molecular biology, the iCLEM team identifies the organisms and genes that produce the most promising cellulases for potential use in large-scale industrial processes, an essential part of cellulosic biofuel production.