The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) IMSD program was prompted by a self-study that indicated underrepresented minority (URM) undergraduates in STEM-H majors and PhD students in the biomedical sciences were underperforming in their academic programs.
The aims of the original proposal were focused on PhD students in the biomedical sciences and Biology undergraduates and were largely designed to increase (a) numbers of URM biology majors who remained in the major, participated in undergraduate research, enrolled in biomedical PhD programs after completing the degree, and completed the PhD in biomedical disciplines and (b) improve academic performance and research productivity of URM students in the biomedical sciences. During the current period of support we have made significant progress towards achieving these goals. The program supported 23 URM undergraduates who participated in mentored research and provided academic/ career counseling to these individuals and countless more through the Undergraduate Research Coordinator in Biology, a position developed through a partnership between VCU-IMSD, VCU-MARC, and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. Both of the IMSD Undergraduate Scholars have finished the degree to date are pursuing additional training in the biomedical sciences. Seventy five percent of supported VCU-IMSD PhD students are making good progress towards their degrees and the first of these individuals will complete the PhD in spring or summer of 2013. We view these data as evidence that VCU-IMSD "is working", but also recognize the need for further program development to increase our success rate and improve the quality of the experience that we provide to trainees. To accomplish those goals, the specific aims of this competitive renewal are: (1) To provide mentored research experiences for 16 IMSD Undergraduate Scholars/ year and 4 IMSD PhD students/ year, (2): To use both well-tested and novel strategies to increase academic success of IMSD trainees, (3) To design and deliver enrichment activities that develop trainees'critical thinking/ problem solving skills, improve communications skills, increase awareness of careers that complement their interests and personalities, (4) To ensure that at least 60% of IMSD Undergraduate Scholars enroll in competitive PhD programs in the biomedical sciences, (5) To ensure that e 90% of IMSD Scholars who enroll complete PhD programs in the biomedical sciences, (6) To use aggressive recruiting strategies to increase URM applications to the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal by 100%, and (7) To increase productivity of URM PhD students to be comparable to that of their peers. Focused mentoring and careful selection of research mentors will be used to enhance productivity of IMSD PhD students. We believe our aims are achievable and consistent with the goals of the IMSD Program "to develop the pool of a diverse group of highly trained undergraduate and graduate students who go on to research careers and will be available to participate in NIH-funded research."
The future of medicine depends on biomedical research and the new discoveries that research brings to disease mechanisms. However, disparities exist, not only in healthcare and disease but also in the researchers who push biomedicine forward. The VCU-IMSD program is intended to address this disparity by increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who pursue PhD level training in biomedical research.
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