equipment in a biomedical science lab
June 6, 2024

Three West Point Cadets to Participate in Inaugural Research Internship Program

Partnership intended to build research-based bridges between the institutions

Author: Ross French
June 6, 2024

Three cadets from the US Military Academy at West Point will be conducting research internships in the University of California Riverside School of Medicine’s Biomedical Sciences program as the inaugural participants in a new program designed to build research-based bridges between the institutions.

Scott Pegan

Scott Pegan, PhD, a professor in the Division of Biomedical Sciences and lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserve who serves at US Military Academy, has played a key role in the development of the internship program.

“This program is the latest facet of our efforts to reach out to the veteran and service-connected populations in the Inland Southern California community and beyond,” Pegan said. “The connection between the School of Medicine and the US Military Academy aims to foster research collaborations and cultural exchanges that will enable our researchers to aid the nation in key areas that will safeguard the health of veteran and service-connected populations in medicine.”

Many West Point cadets participate in multi-week academic internships during the summer months. Although these experiences are expensive, an internship at a research based medical school like UC Riverside is unique.

The inaugural year of the program will see three cadets who have just completed their first year at West Point coming to Riverside for their internship, which will last three to five weeks. The students will then return to Riverside after their second and third years, with new cadets joining the cadre. The goal is to have about 10 students annually across the three years.

“West Point’s Department of Chemistry and Life Science is piloting a program for longitudinal research experiences,” Pegan said. “These cadets chose from three longitudinal programs, each offering the potential to learn what an R1 school of medicine had to offer.” 

For these cadets and their pre-medical program colleagues, gaining access to medical school experiences can be a challenge. 

“With the USMA seeking to meet the physician demands of the Army, partnerships with institutions like UCR SOM are key to providing cadets with a diverse set of options to gain experience. Experience that will pay dividends to the Army and the communities with which they serve,” said Colonel Corey James, acting department head of Department of Chemistry and Life Science at the USMA, which oversees the pre-medical preparation of cadets.

Cadets Audrey Whitfield and Xinyi Feng will work in the labs of David Lo, MD, PhD and Erica Heinrich, PhD on the “Analysis of burn pit smoke on the physiology of rodents," while Cadet Madison Critcher will work with Pegan on “Viral countermeasure development for a NIH bioterrorism agent Category A hemorrhagic fever virus." 

The seeds for the exchange program were planted in February 2023 when USMA Department Chair of Chemistry and Life Science Colonel John Burpo and then-Director of the Center for Medical Science Dr. Ryan Limbocker visited UC Riverside to present a seminar and meet faculty and administrators across the campus.

Changcheng Zhou

Then, in March of 2024, Changcheng Zhou, PhD, traveled to West Point to present a seminar, furthering the partnership.

“They were deeply impressed with the welcoming environment of School of Medicine and UCR for USMA cadets, as well as the interest in solving medical challenges of service-connected and veteran populations” Pegan said. “This set the stage for the cadets' visit this year.”