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Rockefeller Summer Neuroscience Program

By Jeanne Garbarino , Kyle Marian Viterbo

The Rockefeller University Summer Neuroscience Program (SNP)

Visit SNP’s website for more details!

Entering its 11th year, the Summer Neuroscience Program (SNP) is a 2 week summer program on neuroscience for high school students who are from low-resource communities. The SNP takes place at The Rockefeller University. HS students are selected via a teacher-nomination process. The SNP is facilitated by Rockefeller graduate students. This initiative is financially supported by the Rockefeller Dean’s Office ($5400). This initiative is further supported by various efforts from members and groups within the Rockefeller community.  

Watch / listen to the conversation here


Conversation Takeaways

Volunteerism is crucial for program success

While graduate students directors are responsible for building the SNP curriculum, and for teaching the majority of the lectures, there is a high dependence on other graduate students to volunteer as mentors for the journal club, and experimental demonstration portions of the program. This recruitment process boils down to a word-of-mouth campaign to recruit graduate students throughout the summer. Additionally, graduate students and faculty members (from both RU and outside of the community) give a handful of lectures, and these are scheduled on an individual basis, availability-permitting. At the end of the program, they host a career panel featuring a diverse group of scientists to answer students’ questions–these scientists are intentionally chosen to represent different stages in their respective careers as well as different career paths. The responsiveness from the community in participating in these different facets of the program has always been really exceptional.

For Science Outreach Practitioners

  • To balance graduate student demands with running the outreach program, SNP has 4 co-directors to share core responsibilities. 
  • To help maximize the volunteer involvement of the campus community, the SNP directors offer multiple entry levels for interested scientist participants: lectures, mentorship, or leadership roles.
  • The flexible structure allows scientist participants the opportunity to shape program curricula based on their interests or expertise.

Details on High School Student Participants

  • The program invites 16 students from different NYC schools and provides paid public transportation via metrocard distribution to all student participants.
  • Invitation to participate factors in the needs of the student and their educational environment (assessed via student application, teacher recommendations, and publicly available data tied to the educational landscape & resources of each NYC high school).
  • Gives high school students the opportunity to experience university-level science lectures, experiments, and scientist mentorship.
  • The cohort of 16 students from different high schools provided unexpected social benefits to empowering students’ science identities.
  • Many SNP students go on to participate in other RockEDU programming, such as LAB Jumpstart and the SSRP.

Future considerations

Measuring outcomes

To begin to assess quantitative outcomes, the SNP crew are working to build an alumni network that spans the program’s 11-year history. From this network, they hope to establish career trajectories of SNP alumni, as well as a mentorship support system. In terms of current metrics, the SNP team leans on feedback forms, which students fill out at the end of the program, to gather information on individual and collective student experiences in the SNP. Additionally, directors often write college recommendation letters for alumni, which is a real benefit for students who would otherwise not have an element of their college application that speaks to their scientific prowess.

Hopeful next steps

  • Include is a stipend for HS student participants. This would be helpful in preventing some students from having to make a choice between SNP and a summer job.
  • Lengthen the program, provided they are able to secure institutional and community support.
  • Expand the school list for student nominations to include more non-traditional/high-need schools; in the past two years, efforts to expand our school list has yielded a remarkable diversifying effect on our applicant pool.
  • More clearly define their rubric for high-need, high-merit applicant to better recruit the target audience.
  • Continue maximizing the interactivity of the curriculum for engaging students, so any future improvements in building the SNP curriculum will be guided by this principle; this interactivity can take the form of relevant games, problem-solving activities, experimentation, or demonstration of concepts.


This survey was developed as part of the Advancing Research Impacts in Society (ARIS) Center Fellows Program supported through a grant from the NSF (#1810732). The findings and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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