The University of South Carolina (USC) proposes to establish a South Carolina-Advancing Diversity in Aging Research (SC-ADAR) undergraduate program to increase the number of qualified underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students who pursue scientific graduate studies in programs focusing on science and aging. We are partnering with five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in South Carolina (SC). The decision to focus on HBCUs was made as HBCUs have a high concentration of low-income, African American undergraduate students, many of whom are majoring in MSTEM fields, and might, through exposure to a research education program focusing on aging research, choose to enter scientific careers committed to addressing the complex biological, biomedical, behavioral, and clinical challenges that accompany aging. The proposed SC-ADAR leverages the Dual PIs' and USC's extensive experience in providing training in aging and MSTEM research for underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students across the continuum of education, from high-school through graduate school and further professional advancement. In addition, the proposed program will draw on USC's long history of collaborating with South Carolina's HBCUs in the development of educational programs for undergraduates in the STEM fields. Specific program aims include: 1) recruiting HBCU undergraduates majoring in STEM fields from five participating HBCUs in SC; 2) implementing a 24-month research education program, including: hands-on mentored research experiences in a research laboratory at USC; co-mentoring system with USC and HBCU faculty; summer coursework on aging; opportunities for joint-learning with other students; academic advising; and career/professional development activities that will assist students in applying to graduate studies in NIA MSTEM fields and professional development activities that will assist HBCU faculty mentors in career advancement in NIA MSTEM research; 3) conducting a process evaluation (to make iterative improvements in the program) and a summative evaluation to measure short-term outcomes (competencies in NIH MSTEM fields and completion of undergraduate degree in MSTEM field) and intermediate-term outcomes (application and transitioning to graduate studies/medical school); and 4) evaluating the success of the program in increasing the capacity and intention of HBCU faculty mentors to conduct research in NIA MSTEM fields. The likelihood of success is enhanced by strong institutional support from USC, USC's existing infrastructure for advancing diversity in STEM, and through the experience of the Dual PIs, with their backgrounds in research training in aging (Dr. Sue Levkoff) and the STEM (Dr. Alan White) fields.
The proposed SC-ADAR institutional Research Education program seeks to address the lack of diversity among scientific experts in the aging field as well as the need for expanded basic and clinical research on health disparities among the aging population. Success in attaining the program aims will contribute to our long-term goal of attaining a diverse workforce of basic and clinical scientists to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and older population.