‘The summer we grew up’: Alumna’s gift honors a transformative JAX experience

Susan Collins Black during her time at Highseas.Dr. Susan Collins Black, pictured as a summer student in 1962.

Dr. Susan Collins Black reflects on lifelong lessons from JAX and her inspiration for making a gift to nurture future scientists.


When Susan Collins arrived at the Highseas mansion in 1962 to participate in The Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program, a piano sat in the foyer. After parents had said their goodbyes and driven away, she and her new classmates hovered awkwardly, no one quite knowing how to break the ice.

Suddenly, one of them sat down at the piano and began to play. When he finished – pausing as the music began to swell – another student took his place and continued playing. As the mansion filled with music, the SSP class of 1962 began to relax, to open up to one another and to build connections that have lasted a lifetime. 

A self-professed “science kid,” Susan grew up in a small coastal Maine town with a mother who believed strongly in women’s education. She wanted Susan to go to college and helped her apply to the Summer Student Program as a junior in high school. Susan was the only student from Maine accepted to the program that year.

Her mother’s dream of an education for her daughter came true in spades. Using knowledge gained at JAX, Susan went on to win the Maine State Science Fair in 1963. With the help of scholarships, she earned a graduate degree from Clark University, a postdoctoral degree from Brown University and then her medical degree from Thomas Jefferson Medical School, followed by four years of residency in obstetrics and gynecology (board-certified by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists).

“The Summer Student Program opened many doors for me,” she said. “It was monumental in igniting scientific passions I have followed throughout my entire life.”

A reunion and an inspiration to give back 

During the summer of 2022, the SSP Class of 1962 reunited at Highseas to celebrate a remarkable six decades since their SSP graduation. Though their faces had changed with time, Susan found their shared appreciation for the SSP experience remained as strong as ever.

“We had common emotions about how that summer shaped us,” Susan said. “We gained confidence in ourselves. It was the first time we truly felt we could do what we wanted in the world. Looking back, we all recognized that moment as the summer we grew up.”

She and her fellow alumni discussed their shared interest in extending the SSP experience to other high school students. In recognition of JAX’s role in solidifying her medical career and enabling her to provide for her family, Susan generously established an endowment to support a special living-learning community for high school students wishing to participate in the SSP.

“I feel so fortunate to have had this experience at JAX,” Susan said. “I wanted to empower future young scientists on the cusp of their intellectual awakening to be confident, to be brave, and to forge paths of discovery.”

A legacy for young scientists

Now married and living in Colorado, Susan and her husband Stan are active, healthy and happy. Yet Susan’s path in life has not been without heartache. Having lost two husbands to cancer, she knows too well the health challenges JAX scientists are working to solve and hopes her gift will make a difference by empowering young scientists to pursue their own discoveries.

“The Summer Student Program made such a difference in my life,” she said. “For any young scientists out there, who feel inclined to pursue this field, I’d love to have helped facilitate their first step.”