The goal of the Virginia Commonwealth University Guided Research Experiences & Applied Training (VCU GREAT) program is to develop an innovative, intensive summer research experience, in the study of alcohol and related behavioral health outcomes, for undergraduates from underrepresented (UR) groups, in order to create a pipeline for increasing diversity in biomedical and behavioral research. This program capitalizes upon a university-wide collaborative project, Spit for Science (S4S), a longitudinal study of more than 12,000 college students, with an associated research registry containing over 3500 variables covering alcohol use and related behavioral health factors, as well as genotypic data. The interdisciplinary nature of S4S and its 120 faculty collaborators (10 of whom will serve as research mentors), provides excellent opportunities for young researchers. Furthermore, VCU's diverse student population (29% are of UR minority populations and 35% are first-generation) offers an ideal environment in which to recruit and train UR scholars. Specifically, VCU GREAT will: (1) establish a pipeline for recruitment of UR undergraduates through collaborations with senior leadership and advertising through faculty, staff, and directly to students; (2) create an innovative, 8 week summer research experience for 10 program fellows, consisting of a combination of structured training (Week 1) and individual mentorship (Weeks 2-8) under VCU faculty with expertise in substance use and behavioral health, designed to provide young researchers with foundational research skills, experiential learning, and responsible conduct of research training; (3) provide professional and career development opportunities for fellows, to facilitate student success in research and to prepare students for behavioral research careers; and (4) disseminate program findings and student research through both traditional (e.g., scientific posters) and innovative (e.g., infographics) means, to train the next generation of researchers in the dissemination and translation of research. Professional and career development, as well as research internships, will extend beyond the summer program, affording support throughout the remainder of the fellow's academic career. Program success will be evaluated across recruitment, student program completion, and fellows' continued engagement in research and entrance into research-related careers. Finally, student learning outcomes will be assessed in conjunction with VCU's teaching and learning center. The interdisciplinary nature of the S4S project and program faculty, in addition to VCU's diverse student body and excellent infrastructure/support for undergraduate researchers, position VCU GREAT to contribute significantly to increasing diversity in biobehavioral research.
Although diverse perspectives and expertise are needed to solve current, complex health problems, individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, disadvantaged backgrounds, and individuals with disabilities are significantly less likely to end up in science careers. Evidence suggests that targeted undergraduate research programs substantially improve persistence and conceptualization of a future career in research. This proposal would develop an intensive summer research experience in the study of alcohol and related behavioral health outcomes for undergraduates from underrepresented groups in order to develop a pipeline for increasing diversity in biomedical and behavioral research.