Day intends to major in chemistry and hopes to finish his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County before moving on to graduate school. He said he plans a career in scientific research.

BRBT head Dr. Jungsan Sohn, an assistant professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the medical school, said the program takes a holistic approach to the students' training: While participants take classes, they also are working on research that has not been done before.

"That is something that we want them to take away," Sohn said.

At the beginning of the summer, he said, he told them he expects their relationships with his Hopkins lab to last.

"We tell them from Day One ... 'This is your lifelong relationship,'" he said. "We want to know how these kids progress through their careers."

Universities around the country have created programs to give students from under-represented minority groups a boost into the science field and hands-on lab experience.

Bill LaCourse, dean of UMBC's College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, is studying ways to open a pipeline for students to get into advanced work.

"Once we get them here, how do you keep them here?" he asked. "How do we get them some special attributes to be successful?" "We understand that pipeline reaches deep into the high schools."

Students who come to college unprepared often need remediation, he said. UMBC has decided to change the approach of throwing 800 students into an introductory science class to let everyone sink or swim, he said, because too many were sinking.

Today, LaCourse said, the school works to ensure that students feel more supported and have a small community of fellow students to turn to for help.

The Hopkins program sprang from the experience of Mains and Wilcox, who saw a need as Teach for America teachers and found scientists at Hopkins willing to help. Now they are trying to juggle their volunteer efforts with MERIT around busy medical school schedules.

Wilcox recalled a student who stood out for her ambition and interest in science. She wanted to be a cardiologist but had poor academic skills and was so ill-informed that she thought she could go to medical school straight out of high school.

She had "the most successful spirit but no tools or support," he said.

She completed the MERIT program and is now studying at Goucher College. Ten high school sophomores are chosen each year for MERIT to spend three to five hours every Saturday together developing academic skills and preparing for the SAT. In their first summer, they earn the minimum wage as interns at the Hopkins Bayview campus, where they observe clinical care and come into contact with nurses, doctors, social workers and technicians.

They spend their second summer in a lab at Hopkins. After graduating from high school and enrolling in college, they can go on to the BRBT program.

Wilcox said the work of MERIT in Baltimore alone will not be enough to raise the percentage of physicians who come from under-represented communities. He and Mains hope to develop a model program that can be expanded into other cities.