PROMISE program graduate hopes others will enroll

10-week high school internship helps aspiring researchers gain practical experience

A high schooler in lab coat and goggles smiles at the camera while working a machine labeled "LEICA VT 1000 S."

Lila Batcheller stays busy.

And she’s always learning.

Right now, you’ll find the National Honor Student buzzing from class to class, wrapping up her senior year at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. During the summer months, where studies are often the last thing on the minds of students as they soak in sunshine and fewer responsibilities, Batcheller was hard at work.

A promising start

In the summer of 2021, Batcheller enrolled in Sanford Health’s PROMISE Scholars Summer Internship. The 10-week research-based internship provides high school seniors a total-immersion experience in Sanford laboratories.

“For 10 weeks in the summer, you are part of one of the research labs at Sanford Research. You have your own research project you work on while shadowing members of the lab. You get a lot of exposure to the daily routines of scientists and how research really works,” said Batcheller.

Batcheller said she’s always had an interest in science and research, so this experience was invaluable.

“It was a great experience to have before even going into college. I felt like it gave me a great perspective on a lot of the different careers that exist within science and research. It gives you a great idea going into college of what those careers look like. So, getting that true hands-on experience that a lot of college students don’t even get was amazing,” she said.

A focus on autism

Batcheller’s research project revolved around autism. Specifically, she studied the autism-related binding protein FMRP (fragile X mental retardation protein). In layperson’s terms, she focused on looking at a specific protein commonly related with autism.

She said doing this real-life, specific research felt a bit overwhelming at times. However, these feelings were quelled because “the people working at Sanford Research are really great about making you feel comfortable,” Batcheller said.

“They give you the resources to succeed. I felt like there was always someone who could answer questions, or if they didn’t know the answer, they would refer you to someone else. It was really collaborative, and it felt like everyone there wanted the students to succeed,” she added.

Related: SPUR student passionate about research, future in science

At the end of the program, Batcheller created a poster for her project and presented it at the Sanford research symposium. Through a protocol called expansion microscopy, which is a way for researchers to identify small biological structures, Batcheller identified the FMRP protein “appeared to have specific localization in migrating neurons.”

“The next steps would be pinning down where that localization is. And, if that varies, also finishing out troubleshooting the expansion microscopy protocol,” she said.

Future science major

Batcheller said she’s been looking at colleges.

“I have applied to the University of Minnesota, University of Virginia (and) the University of Michigan. I would like to go somewhere a little further away.”

She said she’s grateful for this experience and would encourage anyone remotely interested in research to apply.

“It’s been a really great experience and I would really recommend it to anyone who is interested in a career in science or research.”

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Posted In People & Culture, Research

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