Overview

The SPARK Research Mentorship Program provides high school students with unparalleled mentored research experience in world-class laboratories at the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville, Florida.

SPARK scholars gain experience in basic science, the research process, critical thinking and professional conduct — and they do it all in Mayo Clinic's state-of-the-art facilities working with some of the top researchers in their fields.

SPARK, which stands for Science Program for the Advancement of Research Knowledge, started at Mayo Clinic in the summer of 2017 for students from Duval and St. Johns counties in Florida. The program provides an opportunity to gain exposure to the real world of scientific inquiry and nurtures interest and enthusiasm for science. During the program, SPARK scholars produce highly competitive projects that they enter in science fairs, and many have won regional and state awards, honors, and prize dollars for their research. Many SPARK scholars go on to prestigious colleges and universities to pursue studies in fields related to science and medicine.

Students who are enrolled as high school juniors or seniors in Duval and St. Johns counties and who are interested in the biomedical sciences can apply for SPARK. Participation requirements include spending at least 20 hours a week working in mentor laboratories during the summer break from school, plus time during the school year.

Professional research mentoring

SPARK scholars carry out their research projects within the Discovery and Translation Labs at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. Students are matched with researchers and are provided valuable mentoring right in the lab, conducting experiments and working with the same equipment our scientists use.

In the Discovery and Translation Labs, scholars work alongside teams of scientists and physicians conducting research with the goal of improving patient care. Their focus is finding new and better ways to predict, prevent, diagnose and optimally treat complex neurological diseases and cancer. Guided by unmet patient needs, researchers work collaboratively in laboratories, on clinical trials and on epidemiologic studies to turn promising discoveries into effective treatments.

Program growth

SPARK has seen growth every year since it started. In 2017, nine students participated. Two of those students went on to participate again in 2018, along with 14 others, for a total cohort of 16 scholars. The numbers jumped again for 2019, with 27 students completing the program.

The 2020 program year would have been another amazing one for our SPARK scholars and research mentors, as we received 82 applications, an increase of 21 applicants over 2019. Unfortunately, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to safely conduct SPARK in 2020. Mayo Clinic leadership considered CDC guidelines and institutional mitigation efforts in response to the evolving challenges of COVID-19. It was evident that we had no choice but to cancel the program. We hope that we can resume SPARK in 2021.