"My parents always emphasized education, but a lot of other kids don't have that advantage," Garner explains. "I try to offer some of that encouragement to others who might need it. By teaching what I've learned in biology and chemistry to high school students, I'm able to pass on that knowledge. That shows me that I learned it for a reason."
Garner is among some 40 UCLA undergraduates active in a program called "CityLab." Hundreds of Los Angeles high school students have participated from such high schools as Compton, Venice, James Monroe, Morningside, Carson, Lawndale and Fairfax. UCLA provides transportation to campus and gives the high school students a campus tour and lunch.
The Saturday CityLab sessions are held in the lab of L. Jeanne Perry, a UCLA faculty member in molecular, cell and developmental biology. She describes the program as "phenomenal."
"The UCLA students put their heart and soul into CityLab and are excellent teachers, and so enthusiastic," Perry says. "The high school students start visualizing themselves as college students; when they see the UCLA students in the lab, some can see themselves in a few years."
The high school students study sickle cell anemia through CityLab by learning the cause of the disease and a method to detect it. They compare red blood cells from healthy people with those of sickle cell patients, use principles of genetics to determine the inheritance pattern of the disease, and discuss current and future treatment options, including gene therapy. The high school students especially enjoy the hands-on lab experiments.
"It was a great experience for me to actually do what UCLA students and researchers do," says one high school participant. "I learned something new, not only about science techniques, but also about a real disease," says another.