2018 iCLEM Students Share Highlights of Their Time at JBEI

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 2018 iCLEM cohort shares in their own words highlights of their summer experience at JBEI. Read below what iCLEM students Carlos Rodriguez, Emile Convocar, Fenet G. Demissie, Karen Zepeda, Kyaw Zaw Tun, Maria Shapiro, Michelle Sanchez and Taqwa Tofaha think of their time at iCLEM. The photos were taken by the students themselves.

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Carlos Rodriguez

Carlos having fun in the lab with one of his lab mates

Before joining the iCLEM program, I already knew I wanted to pursue a career in STEM, but I had no clear direction of what I actually wanted to do. Over the last few weeks, the iCLEM program has offered me many possible careers I could pursue in the future. People from different careers in STEM come to JBEI and gives us a presentation on what they do. We have also had field trips to local companies and labs where we get to have a tour and ask questions. Overall, the iCELM program has a very strong focus on career exploration and will help you explore a different range of careers in the STEM field.

One of my favorite things about iCLEM is the environment. JBEI has a very friendly and diverse staff that are always there to help you. JBEI also has an amazing state-of-the-art lab that has a lot of awesome machines that we get to use during the summer.

Emile Convocar

My summer experience at iCLEM has pushed me further in wanting to pursue a STEM career. The program has introduced me to more complicated and challenging ideas which is what I love about science. My love for science has been reinforced further by iCLEM.

My favorite thing about iCLEM is getting the laboratory experience. The program gives me real life hands-on experience with different processes which are challenging, interesting, and fun. I will no doubt use these experiences to help guide me on the future career path I want to take.


Fenet G. Demissie

Coming to JBEI exposed me to many career paths I did not even know existed. Ever since I was very young, I have been set in pursuing a career in medicine that I did not give myself time to pause and explore other STEAM careers despite my love for different fields of science. Although I still am interested in pursuing a career in medicine, participating in the iCLEM program has opened my eyes and showed me there is an enormous amount of opportunity to work in or outside of the research lab in the course of pursuing medicine.

Despite how trivial our research seems compared to the innovative research done by scientists at JBEI on an everyday basis, this program provides a thrilling experience to high schoolers like me by providing the opportunity to lead each of our own little research experiments and giving us the chance to experience the thrill of succeeding at times, while also learning to keep going in the face of obstacles like an unintended outcome. It was also exciting to visit the UC Berkeley campus and learn more about the college application process and financial aid/scholarship opportunities.

Karen Zepeda

Karen, second from the right, with her lab mates.

I went into iCLEM with the intent to explore. My exposure to STEM careers was very limited to computer science, and I never had the opportunity to explore many other STEM careers. Spending the summer at iCLEM has unquestionably helped me realize that there are so many options in STEM. I still definitely want to pursue a career in computer science, but through talking to people at JBEI and through field trips to different companies and labs, I realized there is a distinct crossover between biology and computer science that I would love to immerse myself in. Being in iCLEM has given me options, options that I’ve been yearning for, for years.

My favorite thing has definitely been the people. Our group is just the right size where you can meet countless of new people, but still small enough where you can meet everyone and have an actual conversation with them, rather than the surface “hi” or “hello” while passing by in the hall. Through these past five weeks, I have really gotten to know everyone in iCLEM. I feel like I can be myself without the need to put up a facade. I can feel comfortable to share my thoughts, my confusions, and my mistakes. I can relax at iCLEM and anywhere I feel like I can be myself is a place where I will undoubtedly look forward to going to everyday.

Kyaw Zaw Tun

This summer program exposed me into a lab environment that I was unaccustomed to and has provided experiences with tools important for a researcher, more so than my labs at school. One of my favorite things about iCLEM has been learning the function of machines and about other skills that researchers may use.



Maria Shapiro

Before entering iCLEM I didn’t even know what a scientist did other than experiments. Now I know how many various STEM fields I can go into. iCLEM has made me be sure that in the future I want to be working in a STEM field. I never realized before how time flies fast when you’re doing experiments. I’ve learned so much about science in this program which will help me through my whole career. Even when we have one hour lectures it seems like one minute because I love what we’re learning. If I never did iCLEM I would be unsure of what I wanted to do in the future but doing this program helped me figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

My favorite thing about iCLEM is lab work. Going into the lab and doing the most tedious procedures is still enjoyable and I could do it all day! I’ll go in the lab at 1:00pm and come out at 4:00pm and it feels like I was only in there for 5 minutes. I enjoy pipetting, streaking, mixing, etc. but my favorite thing we did so far in the lab was loading DNA into the gel. I enjoyed doing that because inserting it through the gel and ejecting it was both challenging and a lot of fun.

Michelle Sanchez

My iCLEM summer experience has changed my perspective on the different types of career paths that I might be interested in. I didn’t realize that there were so many STEM careers but now I have become more interested and open to different career paths that I didn’t know existed.

My favorite thing about iCLEM is the experience itself. In my school’s biology and chem classes we didn’t really have any labs so my knowledge of being in a lab environment was completely unknown. Overall, I really enjoyed learning how to do basic lab procedures and exploring different career paths.

Taqwa Tofaha

iCLEM has shown me that there are many different branches of STEM and research. It has taught me to explore the STEM field because there are numerous ways one can utilize their Bio/Chem degree and pursue what they’re passionate about while staying in the STEM field.

My favorite thing about iCLEM has been the visits to the other labs. It was very illuminating to see the different ways science and research are used. From creating new fabrics to biofuels like JBEI does, it really opened up a new realm of possibilities which I hadn’t known about before.