When Tyren Day found success in a biology class at a city high school, he began to fix on the idea of going to college and becoming a scientist.

But for a low-income student from a minority group that is under-represented in the sciences, statistics show the odds were long.

"Where I come from, you don't see too many kids say, 'I want to be a scientist,'" Day said.

It was students such as Day who inspired two city teachers to create MERIT, a program that provides the intensive academic support and mentoring that could enable them to become scientists.

Day, 18, is getting hands-on experience at a biophysics laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after completing his first year at the Community College of Baltimore County.

Mark Wilcox and Tyler Mains, who came to Baltimore in 2009 as Teach for America teachers, have helped nearly two dozen low-income students from under-represented minority groups begin to compete with students from more-privileged backgrounds.

Since starting MERIT, Wilcox and Mains have completed their two-year Teach for America commitments and are studying medicine at Hopkins.

"If we are working to solve health issues facing low-income communities, it would be wonderful to have someone from one of those communities," Wilcox said.

As the nation works to address health disparities among ethnic and socio-economic groups, public health professionals have identified a need for more physicians and scientists from those communities.

Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population, but only 6 percent of the nation's physicians. Of those who aspire to obtain a bachelor's degree in the sciences, only 16 percent of Hispanics and 13 percent of blacks complete the requirements within four years, according to the Higher Education Research Institute.

Universities such as Hopkins are using internships, summer training and other programs to draw candidates into the field.

MERIT, or Medical Education Resources Initiative for Teens, is open to all Baltimore public high school students, Wilcox said. Another program, Biophysics Research for Baltimore Teens, continues helping students after high school.

Through BRBT, students are paired with a Hopkins professor, a graduate student and an undergraduate student mentor, and students are given paid summer internships in Hopkins biophysics labs.

During the summer program, five graduate students teach the BRBT students basic science — biology, physics and chemistry — and lab techniques. Participants then do high-level science with their graduate student mentors and also work on their own projects.

"We see them as key players in helping to reduce health disparities," Wilcox said.

Day, who is in his second summer in the BRBT program, said he felt overwhelmed at first, but learned to take everything one step at a time.

"It was so much information," he said.

Now he is working to make proteins under the mentorship of Joseph "JD" Schonhoft, a Hopkins graduate student in pharmacology and molecular sciences.

Schonhoft said he has been learning from Day. Used to creating eight-week science experiments for graduate students, he said, he had to slow the pace for Day, who doesn't have the same background.

"He is very curious. He is very interested in whatever we are doing," Schonhoft said.