SPARK Research Scholar Awards

CIRM SPARK 2017 Cohort
The 2017 CIRM-SPARK Research Scholars, Ms. Eliza Cocker and Prof. Gerhard Bauer attending the annual meeting hosted by the City of Hope (Duarte, CA).

The UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures (IRC) Hosts the SPARK Program

2023 UC Davis SPARK Summer Research Program in Stem Cell Biology... Application Materials Coming Soon!

Congratulations to the 2022 SPARK Research Scholars:

  • Priyam Baruah, Vista Del Lago HS
  • Mark Davis, Davis Senior HS
  • Yenna Dip, Sheldon HS
  • Aaron Hidalgo, Sheldon HS
  • Momina Jaffar, Sheldon HS
  • Vedmanvitha Ketireddy Mira Loma HS
  • Jane Okafor, West Campus HS
  • Brianna Pham, Sheldon HS
  • Sonia Shaheen, Sheldon HS
CIRM SPARK 2016 Poster Session

Since 2011, Prof. Gerhard Bauer has provided leadership for CIRM funded summer research programs that aim to engage a diverse population of high school students in cutting-edge research. He works closely with UC Davis colleagues, Ms. Eliza Cocker, Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung and Stem Cell Program director, Prof. Jan Nolta, to develop and implement this unique training program each year. Volunteer faculty and researchers at the IRC and Stem Cell Biology Program also play key roles as research supervisors and mentors – their work on behalf of the SPARK program is deeply appreciated!

Topics of Study

Each year, SPARK Research Scholars at UC Davis are introduced to human stem cell biology with a specific emphasis on adult, embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells. Prof. Bauer leads the Bio225 course that includes the high school scholars, as well as Master’s degree students from Sacramento State University. Topics generally include how stem cells are isolated or generated, how they are cultured, and how they are used for regenerative therapies. Students also learn about Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and how to manufacture human stem cells, obtaining a certificate at the end of the course.

Learning Objectives

  • Discern the differences between embryonic, induced pluripotent, and adult stem cells
  • Learn stem cell culture techniques and applications
  • Explore current therapies for human diseases using stem cells
  • Become familiar with federal regulations and good manufacturing practices
  • Learn about product manufacturing within a GMP Facility.

For more information on the UC Davis SPARK program, see the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures training program page.

California Institute for Regenerative Cures (CIRM) Funding Makes the SPARK Research Scholar Program Possible

In Their Own Words... Student Blogs!

SPARK participants have shared their summer research experiences on our WordPress blog. For many, this has been a life-changing experience.


SPARK Students in Gowns

The Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge (SPARK) is an initiative of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, making competitive grant awards to applicants at WASC accredited research institutions in California. SPARK evolved from the CIRM Creativity Award Program for high school students. Seven inaugural awardees were announced in January 2016, and UC Davis was in good company! SPARK Programs were also funded at the California Institute of Technology, Cedars SinaiChildren’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI)City of Hope, Stanford School of Medicine and UC San Francisco. We are pleased to announce that UC Davis Principal Investigator Gerhard Bauer received a CIRM SPARK award renewal in 2022 and we will be able to support the eight-week summer research experience for ten high school students from Northern California for several more years. To catch up on the lastest research advances and training programs for stem cell research in California, check out CIRM’s official blog, The Stem Cellar.

2023 SPARK Research Scholar Application Process

In the following sections, we describe the award, student eligibility guidelines, UC Davis Medical Center Volunteer Services requirements and the application sections, so that students can prepare their application materials before starting to fill out the online form (will be posted in early 2023). 

General Information: What is a SPARK Research Scholar Award?

SPARK Research Scholar Awards will allow students to take part in an eight-week, mentored research project at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, including a certificated course in stem cell biology and exposure to clinical medicine. Student awardees will receive a financial stipend of $2,500 for full participation in the summer program.

The 2023 training program will take place at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures from early June to early August (dates TBA) and trainees will have the opportunity to present their stem cell biology research projects at a 2-day CIRM-SPARK Trainee Meeting in early August 2023.

Important Dates

  • March 24, 2023 – SPARK Research Scholar Award Applications Due by 11:59pm via online form.  
  • Mid-April 2023 – SPARK Research Scholar Awards Announced
  • Late April thru Early June (exact dates TBA) – Mandatory UCDMC Volunteer Services On-Boarding and Orientation Meeting/Information Session for selected SPARK Research Scholars (Note: Awardees should plan to attend one of the meeting dates, which will be announced with the awards.  Awardees who do not attend a UCDMC Volunteer Services Orientation meeting or who do not pass the background check and complete other on-boarding requirements will not be able to participate in the summer research program and will forfeit their award.)
  • June (TBA) 2023 – Research Scholar Orientation and Biosafety Training, UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures (9am-5pm, mandatory attendance)
  • Early June 2023 – early August 2023, SPARK Research Scholar Program (~8 weeks, mandatory attendance, M-F, 8am-5pm)
  • Early August (exact dates and location TBA) – CIRM-SPARK Trainee Meeting (2 days, mandatory attendance)


Who may receive a SPARK Research Scholar Award?

Up to ten SPARK Research Scholar Awards will be made to currently enrolled high school students who meet the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Submit the online SPARK Research Scholar Award application by 11:59pm on March 24, 2023.
  2. Attend a public or private high school within a 45-mile radius from the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures (2921 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817). Students just outside of this geographic radius (an additional ~5-10 miles radius) may petition to apply and decisions will be made by the application review committee on a case-by-case basis based on the quality of the student application materials.
  3. Meet eligibility requirements for Volunteer Services at the UC Davis Medical Center, including the volunteer age requirement (participants must be 16 years of age on or before June 1, 2023). Students selected to participate will undergo a full on-boarding process, including signing of a confidentiality waiver, passing a background check, photo-taking for the ID badge, and completion of all forms. UCDMC Volunteer Services will require timely submission of the following vaccine/medical documentation (Note: it is recommended to start the TB test ASAP, as it is the most common reason for a delay/inability to participate):
    1. MMR - 2 dates for MMR (Rubella, Rubeola & Mumps).
    2. TB test (PPD Version) - TWO STEP PROCESS, 1st test within the 12 months, and 2nd test within 3 months of the volunteer start date. Or, a TB Quantiferon Gold blood draw within 12 months. If you test positive for TB, you will be required to perform additional steps (please inquire with Volunteer Services). 
    3. VARICELLA (chicken pox) - 2 dates for Varicella or documentation from a physician stating you have had a serology showing immunity to the virus.
    4. Flu vaccination – full vaccination status as required by the UC Davis Health System.
    5. COVID-19 vaccination – full vaccination status (including booster) as required by the UC Davis Health System.
  4. Attend a mandatory UCDMC Volunteer Services Orientation meeting sometime in late April, May or early June (exact dates TBA – sign up for one of the announced dates with UCDMC).
  5. Attend the mandatory UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures Program Orientation and Biosafety Training meeting in early June 2023.
  6. Have availability ~8am-5pm (M-F) for the duration of the research experience, participating in all related research, coursework, training and group activities, including social media posts and the CIRM SPARK Trainee Meeting (2-days in mid-August, exact dates & location TBA, transportation will be provided from UCDMC to the event location).
  7. Have transportation to and from the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures in Sacramento for the duration of the program, early June to early August 2023 (~8 weeks, exact dates TBA).

Application Components

What does a complete SPARK Research Scholar Award application include?

SPARK Research Scholar Awards will be made based on review of complete application materials submitted on time (no later than 11:59pm on March 24, 2023) via the online form, including:

Student Demographic Information
  • Contact Email
  • Student First Name
  • Student Last Name
  • Student Birthdate (must be 16 before the start of the SPARK program)
  • Student Grade Level
  • Student Cumulative GPA (review committee reserves the right to ask for verification via official transcripts)
  • Name of Student High School
  • Address of Student High School (for determination of eligibility within 45-mile radius of UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cure
  • Citizenship (U. S. CitizenU. S. Permanent Resident or Other)
  • Gender (Female, Male, Prefer Not to State, or Other)
  • Ethnicity (Note: we are using the categories used by the National Science Foundation: Hispanic or LatinoNot Hispanic or Latin - American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White, More than one race, Other or unknown race or ethnicity, or Prefer Not to State)
  • First Generation College Student Status (Note: Question must be completed. More information on this status at UC Davis First Gen Initiative). Options are: 1) One or more parents or guardians attended a 4-year college and earned a Bachelor’s degree or 2) Neither parent(s) nor guardian(s) attended a 4-year college and earned a Bachelor’s degree.
Student Statement of Intent with Three Written Sections
  1. Learning Section: What do you hope to learn through the Research Scholar experience?  What strengths will you bring to the program?  How will this research experience further your academic and career goals? (500 words or less)
  2. Life Experiences and Extracurricular Activities Section: What types of extracurricular activities, contests (e. g. Teen Biotech Challenge), at-home responsibilities, volunteer work or employment opportunities have you engaged in during the past year or so? How have these helped you to grow as a scholar and community member? If chosen as a SPARK Research Scholar, what types of soft skills will you bring to our team environment? (500 words or less)
  3. Logistics Section: Do you live close enough to the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures (2921 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817) in Sacramento, CA, to fully participate in mandatory meetings, eight weeks of full-time training (8am-5pm, M-F) and to attend the 2-day CIRM SPARK Trainee Meeting in mid-August (Note: meeting potentially involves in-state travel and overnight hotel stay)?  Describe any hardships (transportation, financial, personal) that you may experience if selected to participate in the program. (500 words or less)

Post-Award Processes

SPARK Research Scholar Awards will be announced via email in mid-April.  Student awardees will need to work with our team at the Institute for Regenerative Cures to complete all required UC Davis Medical Center Volunteer Services forms needed for on-boarding and sign up for the mandatory orientation meetings. Failure to complete the required UCDMC Volunteer Services processes will result in forfeiture of the award, including the $2,500 stipend.

As described above, SPARK Research Scholar awardees will be invited to participate in an "in person" summer research experience while following all relevant campus social distancing and safety measures, as outlined by UC Davis Medical Center Volunteer Services. COVID19 safety protocols, including the allowance of in-person research at the UC Davis Institute of Regenerative Cures, may change in response to evolving pandemic conditions over the summer. At this point, we anticipate a fully in-person experience, but will pivot to a remote learning experience, if needed.

Questions about the application process may be directed to the UC Davis Biotechnology Program