Summer Student Program

Daniela Perry, Summer Student Class of 2015

Program description

The Summer Student Program is designed to help students understand the nature of research science. The emphasis of this program is on methods of discovery and communication of knowledge, not the mastery of established facts.

Independent research

Under the guidance of a mentor, students integrate into an ongoing research program, develop an independent project, implement their plan, analyze the data and report their results. At the end of the summer, students present their findings to researchers, peers and parents.

Dynamic students

Each year, the program consists of about 45 students from around the United States, from both high school and undergraduate institutions. Their varied interests and backgrounds create a lively, well-rounded atmosphere.

Two campuses

The Summer Student Program is available at The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (Farmington, Conn.).  Both campuses are unique and offer access to a variety of extracurricular activities.  Students in Farmington have access to Boston and New York; students in Bar Harbor work adjacent to Acadia National Park.

History of the Summer Student Program

Our Summer Student Program has a history longer than that of The Jackson Laboratory itself. The program began in 1924 when University of Maine President C.C. Little (our founder) brought six undergraduates to Mount Desert Island for a summer of biological field studies. At the end of the program’s first installment, students presented their research findings at a summer lecture series that Little organized. 

In the following year, students were supplied with a dining hall and laboratory space. In 1928, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a nearby research institution, began to fund Little’s program, and deemed the camping ground and research building “Dorr Station.” Contributions from private donors also sustained the summer program. The Summer Student Program officially became a part of the Jackson Memorial Laboratory's operation in 1931.

Due to the financial status of the United States in the 1930s, private funding subsided. Students paid for their own room and board, and training was largely casual. In 1937, under the direction of Drs. William and Elizabeth Russell, a more official and formal training program was implemented. Courses became so thorough, in fact, that Earl Green, a later Jackson director, commented that high school students were bored with their college courses after their summers in Bar Harbor.

High-school-aged interns were uncommon until 1949 (excepting the few that came in the 1930s, among them two African American female students). In that year, Fred Avis, a science teacher at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, brought a group of teenagers to study at the Hamilton Station facility. The pre-college group studied rabbit genetics under Paul Sawin. This group also lived on site until 1951, when the Highseas mansion was donated from the Morris Family Estate and was immediately put to use as housing for high school summer students.  

Capacity for more students had already begun to rise in the previous years, with a large post-fire donation from the Ladies’ Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars to build dormitories for students. These buildings, adjacent to our campus, housed undergraduate summer students. The adjoining dining hall and laboratory space were also intended for their exclusive use, but sharing between high school and college students began to grow. Though secondary school students, whom Green felt were disadvantaged in terms of knowledge and experience, had been kept separate from the others since 1943, intermingling began to take place in the 1960s. 

Separately, though, the two student groups devised their own entertainment. College interns held parties, rode horses and bicycled. Most significantly, they developed a tradition of student versus staff softball games. High school students began the annual trip to Mount Katahdin. 

More than 80 years later, summer students are still planning extracurricular adventures and making discoveries in the laboratory. Though changes have arisen in funding, the two student groups are united, and the lab facilities are much different, including campuses in Maine, California, and Connecticut.  C.C. Little's vision for young, independent researchers maximizing their potential is thriving.