As the newborn infant cries incessantly, Jessie Bayonet, dressed in a hospital gown, stands over the pink and fragile-looking baby and prepares to change its diaper. A mother of two grown children, Bayonet thought her years of changing diapers were well behind her, but as part of her summer internship at Johns Hopkins she's getting a little refresher course.
Yet this third-year psychology major from the University of Puerto Rico is not here to practice her mothering skills but rather to apply in a clinical research setting, such as this one at Sinai Hospital, some of the theories and practices she's learned in class.
As part of the nationwide Leadership Alliance program, which began June 8, Bayonet and fellow intern Gladys Argola will spend nine weeks with mentor Barbara Smith, a Hopkins professor of psychology, conducting experiments and gaining valuable practical research experience.
This day's experiment in early human social and emotional development involves stimulating the taste buds of infants who are in a state of emotional distress. Crying newborns are brought into the research room and then given a drop of simple sugar water at five regular intervals. For most of the infants, Smith and her two interns, who log the data, find that the feeding has a calming effect, transforming the screaming child into a placid baby within minutes.
According to Smith, feeding is an essential part of early social development, and the bond that forms between mother and child during the feeding process is an important one.
Another bond that Smith feels is important is the one she shares with students like Bayonet and Argola, who also attends the University of Puerto Rico.
"It's really important to mentor students," says Smith, who has participated in the summer internship program for five years. "They get to learn something about research. And being hands-on like this is much more effective than reading it in a book."
The Leadership Alliance, which was initiated in 1992, is a nationwide program that is aimed at attracting minorities to postgraduate education to better prepare them for future careers in both academics and private industry. It is run by a consortium of 25 leading research and teaching universities and historically black colleges and universities and is funded through a combination of grants and private donations. Students receive room and board and a stipend, which serves as spending money during their stay here.
As a member of the Leadership Alliance, Hopkins is playing its part in encouraging talented minorities--a historically underrepresented segment of the population in many graduate schools--to pursue further studies.
Ed Roulhac, vice provost for academic services, says that each year Hopkins has managed to attract a number of "first rate" students, who are focused and determined to make the most of their opportunity to study alongside some of the finest researchers in the world.
"[The program] is a total immersion in the rigorous research environment," Roulhac says. "The students work at an exhaustive pace for the nine weeks on a full range of activities."
Roulhac says the students find out about the program through word of mouth, brochures that are available at participating institutions, the program's Web site or by direct contact with the Hopkins officials who canvass nearby Leadership Alliance schools, such as Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Students then send to Brown University, the consortium's lead institution, applications that outline their graduate program research interests and future career goals and include a list of three institutions at which they would like to be placed. After a candidate is accepted into the Leadership Alliance program, his or her application is sent to the selected schools to determine if there is a mentor whose research interest matches up.
This year 24 Leadership Alliance students were placed at Hopkins with mentors in the schools of Medicine, coordinated by James Hildreth, associate dean for graduate studies; Arts and Sciences, Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research; Public Health, Kenneth Adams, director of Extramural Student Support; and, for the first time, Nursing, Christine Kasper, the M. Adelaide Nutting Chair.
These 24 students join the 37 Howard Hughes fellows and 11 National Institutes of Health fellows who have chosen to spend part of their summer at Hopkins, participating in anything from AIDS-related research to experiments in computer science engineering.
Yet Patricia Palmer, Leadership Alliance program coordinator and director of Arts and Sciences Summer Programs, says that the internship program is more than just work. It's also an opportunity for these students to make some new friends, forge lasting relationships with professors and even participate in some local culture.
Palmer and her assistant, Natalie Shilo, plan trips to baseball games at Camden Yards, Washington, D.C., and the like. And Shilo--"the cruise director," Palmer calls her--makes herself available to the students to teach them such valuable things as how to get access to the athletic facility or where to eat at 2 a.m.
As good a time as Bayonet and Argola say they had on a recent harbor cruise on the Clipper City, both say they're having an even better time working in the laboratory with Smith.
"She's already given us so many different experiences. She's being very careful that we get a feeling of everything so we can decide what we will work on the rest of the summer," Bayonet says. "I was working for a year in Puerto Rico, but there it takes a while for your mentor to give you the opportunity to work directly on the research. Today is just our second day, and she's already giving us a chance to work and to feel [we're] part of the research."
At the end of their nine weeks, all the students will have a better grasp of possible graduate studies, and a body of research results to show as well. A poster session for displaying the work done by the Leadership Alliance interns, Howard Hughes fellows and NIH fellows will be held on Aug. 6 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Glass Pavilion on the Homewood campus.