VCU receives NIH grant to help underrepresented students interested in biomedical sciences

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Virginia Commonwealth University has received a five-year grant of nearly $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to help increase transfer and graduation rates of community college students interested in biology and to ultimately increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral research careers.  

Karen Kester, Ph.D., and Jennifer Stewart, Ph.D., associate professors in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Martin Zahn, associate professor of biology at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC), were awarded the grant. John Tyler Community College (JTCC) will also partner with VCU.  

The program, “VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate: Dream to Goal,” will enhance teaching and advising at VCU, TNCC and JTCC, and provide a two-year graduated summer research program for selected students from underrepresented groups. These students include racial and ethnic minorities, students from rural or inner city environments, and those who are economically disadvantaged, disabled or are the first in their families to attend college.

The project includes several components. Community college students will benefit from enhanced health education and health careers counseling. VCU and TNCC will benefit from improved academic advising capacities. New transferrable courses offered at TNCC, JTCC and VCU will enhance preparedness and acquisition of laboratory, quantitative and critical thinking skills through the development of two new courses. A long-term goal is to disseminate evidence-based innovations to non-participating institutions.    

Talented students from underrepresented groups will be identified and selected for participation in the summer research program. Each summer, nine community college students will begin the paid two-year graduated Dream to Goal (DTG) Scholars residential summer program at VCU.

First-year summer scholars will participate in an eight-week program that includes a “biology boot camp,” training in responsible conduct of research, a research communication skills workshop and a five-week research internship. Second-year summer scholars will engage in an eight-week mentored research experience with VCU research faculty and professional development seminars. Participants also will receive funding to attend the annual meeting of the Virginia Academy of Sciences and a national scientific meeting. Academic and career progress of DTG Scholars will be tracked. Enrollment for the first DTG Scholars summer research program will begin in March 2014.