Focusing on our Community

Sight + Sound, Fall 2021

This year, for the first time through the Hillman Vision Scholars program, four local high school students from low-income and underrepresented communities were exposed to the field of ophthalmology research. This summer, the eight-week program was part of the Hillman Summer Scholars program made possible through the Henry L. Hillman grant to the Eye & Ear Foundation (EEF).

Due to the pandemic, the program was hybrid. All four students attended daily in-person training. Some were exposed to clinical ophthalmologists co-mentored with vision scientists to observe a medical doctor’s life and basic research. They also participated in hands-on experiments with side-by-side training. The program concluded with each student successfully presenting their research project virtually on Zoom.

“Despite some hurdles with the hybrid format, all mentors and students made a great effort to complete the program successfully,” says Dr. Yuanyuan Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh and the faculty coordinator. Faculty in the Department showed high enthusiasm. In fact, Dr. Chen states, they have more faculty – including clinical and basic research faculty members — willing to take on students than the number of students available.

The program is a win-win for faculty and students. The students have limited information about college, and becoming a scientist may not have been in their realm of possibility. “This program is also important to the department and mentors to have an opportunity to reach out to the community and contribute,” says Dr. Chen.