Your Connecting Activities Newsletter - May 2020
Inspire Students to Choose Scientific Research Careers
Victoria R. Polonis, PhD, is the Chief of the Dept of Vaccine Immunology for the Military HIV Research Program at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research ( WRAIR ). Developing a vaccine against COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, so now is a good time to spur students’ interest in scientific research career pathways. We interviewed Dr. Polonis to ask her how she got into the field, what she does on a daily basis and advice to guidance counselors. Here are her responses and key tips as you guide students.

Expose students to STEM opportunities.
Dr. Polonis was15 and a HS sophomore when her family saw a PBS TV special on BioMedical research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). She lived nearby, so Dr. Polonis visited RPI with her parents. She ended up volunteering for 2 summers for a Virologist working on Lassa Fever Virus models. After that she set her sights on medicine and research.

Help youth find opportunities to shadow physicians, or volunteer/intern at local hospitals or laboratories. Help students enroll in YouthWorks Summer STEM placements.

Help students be well-rounded.
Good verbal and written communication skills, focus, attention to detail, organization, and inter-personal skills are as important to succeed in scientific research/STEM as math and memorization!

Explain how research scientists start out.
Newbies in the lab will do menial tasks, called scutwork. Cleaning labware, autoclaving, and basic lab chores are common. You have to be open to scutwork to earn the chance to be in the lab.

Dr. Polonis worked in the lab developing experiments to research questions related to an HIV vaccine. She and her staff took samples from trial participants to measure how the immune system neutralized viruses. She traveled all over the world setting up clinical labs, since HIV is worldwide. Now as the lab chief, she spends more time on oversight, data analysis, attending meetings, writing manuscripts and preparing presentation.

Talk about career paths for medical research scientists.
Dr. Polonis entered the ROTC to help offset the cost of her education, and stayed in the military, now working at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She could also have gotten into teaching, business-biotech firms, management, or medical school, then clinical practice.

What Dr. Polonis wishes a guidance counselor would have told her!
Do not doubt yourself and have confidence in your abilities. Sometimes you need to be aggressive; deferring to others doesn’t always work. Look out for your own career; go after what you want.

 On the practical side: Listen to your advisors and learn from those senior to you. Don’t pursue something you don’t like just for money or to please others. Take your time, set your sights on the goal and during the difficult times (like writing a thesis) tell yourself, “This too shall pass” because nothing is always easy or fun—but with persistence you’ll reach the goal. A college degree is very important to advance in scientific research, so investigate all possible funding sources to avoid debt.

What is wonderful about medical research.
What Dr. Polonis loves about research is the feeling that you are contributing to the world and to the potential health of human kind. Also, being the first one to see a result, any result that could be a small piece of the puzzle, is exciting and wonderful!

Click here for Dr. Polonis’ tips for students to succeed.
Last month's poll: What online learning tools are most useful to you? You asked for more online fillable worksheets. The CA staff is working on it. Watch for new worksheets coming soon.
YouthWorks Summer!
The Merrimack Valley YouthWorks program goal for summer 2020 is to make subsidized employment available for 305 14-21 year old youth. Considering COVID-19 this will be a challenge, but we can make it with your help!

This year YouthWorks has 3 tiers, offering diverse experiences by age and interest:

  1. Tier 1: Project and Service based experiences for 14-15 year olds (Staff: Roseangela Amaro –
  2. Tier 2: STEM internship placements and subsidized jobs for 16-21 year olds with local nonprofits, public agencies and businesses (Staff: Leah Sparks – & Yeang Leng – )
  3. Tier 3: Information Technology Career Exploration and internships for 17-21 year olds (Staff: Robin DelNegro – )

ONLINE applications are now available here. We’re calling on guidance counselors, administrators, and teachers to recruit youth to participate, especially in Tier 2. Click here for a poster to share with students explaining how to apply! Reach out to tier staff, or Cristy Gomez, 978-857-5220 with questions.

Applications are due JUNE 1! 
IP Toolkit Launched!
Over 80 school counselors and educators attended the May 11 th launch of the MA Innovation Pathways Toolkit. The twenty-two page toolkit is rooted in the five IP Guiding Principles - Equitable Access, Guided Academic Pathways, Enhanced Student Support, Connection to Career and Effective Partnerships – and is full of examples and resources. Download the new toolkit here.

The toolkit is divided into four sections - an overview; core design elements; a 4-part design process for creating your vision, building your community, design and planning, and implementing and monitoring the program; and a resource section divided into 10 subsections including leadership challenges, advising and mentoring, and remote work-based learning experiences.

Innovation Pathways (IP) are designed to help students gain the knowledge and experience in specific high-demand industries before they graduate. Currently there are 99 IP pathways across five sectors - information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences and advanced manufacturing. Over 4,000 students have been reached in forty-two schools across 36 districts. Click here to view schools that have their IP designation. Link to IP information and timelines.

To learn more about starting the process for your school, register for the New Innovation Pathways Applicant Virtual Workshop : Wednesday, June 10, 9:00 -10:45 a.m.

New to IP? CCC is seeking pilot sites interested in testing a new IP Site Self-Assessment Tool . If interested, please contact Diana Lebeaux,  

“The connection to the Masshire Board as the link
to work-based learning and industry partners was critical to successful implementation.”

The toolkit is the work of the Center of Collaborative Education (CCC) in partnership with DESE.
Upcoming : New Innovation Pathways Applicant Virtual Workshop
Wednesday, June 10 11, 9:00 -10:45 a.m. Registration
Career Development Education (CDE) = Awareness + Exploration + Immersion
Connecting Activities is a program funded by the MA Dept. of Elementary & Secondary Education. 
It’s operated by the MassHire Merrimack Valley Workforce Board.