California State University, Northridge has received nearly $3.75 million from the National Institutes of Health for an innovative program that pairs campus researchers with students from underrepresented communities who want to become research scientists.
The $3,745,469 grant will be awarded over the course of five years to support 20 undergraduate and six graduate students each year as they are mentored by and conduct research alongside faculty in Northridge’s Colleges of Science and Mathematics, Health and Human Development, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The grant, coupled with the more than $3 million NIH grant the university received last year to encourage underrepresented students to consider careers in biomedical research, adds to Northridge’s reputation as a leader in efforts to build and diversify the nation’s scientific ranks.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to fill a need as a nation and help students prepare for careers as basic biomedical researchers,” said biology professor MariaElena Zavala, who directs the Minority Biomedical Research Support Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS RISE) program. “We will be helping the students develop their research skills through one-on-one mentoring with faculty members and workshops.”
The federal program is designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who go on to complete Ph.D. programs in biomedical and behavioral research fields.
Zavala said the program is open to undergraduate students who have completed their first freshman semester and have a GPA of at least 2.8. They must fill out an application that details their qualifications and interest and take part in an interview. The program does not support students whose professional coals are to become clinicians, such as doctors or dentists.
Once accepted, students in the program will be paired with a mentoring faculty member who will guide and support them as they matriculate through the program. At first, the students will be assisting the faculty member with his or her research. Eventually, the students will be conducting their own research and are expected to present their research at professional conferences. The students will spend at least one summer conducting a project with researchers at another academic institution.
While the undergraduate students will not receive class credit for their time in the laboratory, they will be financially compensated for the hours they put in.
Biology professors Steven Oppenheimer and Cheryl Hogue coordinate the RISE support pre-freshman program and the summer orientation program respectively.
Graduate students who are accepted into the program will receive tuition remission as well as financial support for their research projects.
They and the undergraduate students will have to maintain extensive financial records to justify their expenditures, and will receive training in research ethics.
“We are very serious about given the students the skills they will need to succeed as scientists,” she said, “We want to see our students go on to Ph.D. programs and become scientists themselves.”
Zavala said the MBRS RISE program has been at CSUN for about a decade and during that time, about 90 students have passed through it, with most of them going on to become scientific researchers.