Despite the fact that radiation therapy is one of the three primary modalities used in the treatment of cancer, the active number of researchers in the fields of radiation biology or physics has been in decline over the past three decades. The Summer Undergraduate Program to Educate Radiation Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania (SUPERS@PENN) was proposed as a means to begin to reverse this recognized crisis. We hypothesize that by providing undergraduate students with a supportive environment that teaches them the underpinnings of cancer and radiation biology, physics and imaging, early in their college careers, that we will encourage a significant number of these students to ultimately pursue cancer and radiation research as a career path. A key thrust of our training program is to identify and recruit participants from various underrepresented populations, thereby promoting greater diversity among radiation scientists. Initially submitted in 2009, the program obtained strong support from study section (score 11, 1.0 percentile) received NIH funding in 2010 and was successful in competitive renewal in 2015. We have continued to successfully meet the proposed aims of the program, with a large percentage of our alumni (including minority, socioeconomically underprivileged and female gender) having now moved on to graduate programs, with a continued focus on an eventual career in cancer and radiation research. Our goal for this competitive renewal is to continue to build upon these robust successes. Individualized research projects tailored to each student's interests and experience remain as the core component of the SUPERS program. In addition, didactic lectures from faculty experts in the fields of cancer biology, radiation biology, radiation physics and cancer imaging provide a foundation for students. Four hours of bioethics training are incorporated into the didactic lecture series, as per NIH requirements. We continue with the programmatic assessment and evaluative component. Working with colleagues in the Office of Evaluation and Assessment in the Academic Programs at the Perelman School of Medicine, SUPERS has developed methodologies to measure the immediate and long term impact of the program on student participants as they transition from undergraduate to post-baccalaureate studies and eventually into the early part of their research careers. In summary, by completing the specific aims underlying this proposal, we anticipate that we will continue to have a positive impact on quantity, quality and diversity of the next generation of scientists engaged in cancer and radiation related research.
The primary focus of the SUPERS@PENN program is to enrich the undergraduate experience by educating students on the science behind cancer and radiation research with a particular emphasis on recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented populations into the program and ultimately the research career pipeline. We propose that this cornerstone experience at a world-class institution (University of Pennsylvania) which is largely unavailable to the majority of undergraduates in the United States, will encourage them to apply to graduate school programs that eventually leads to pursuit of careers in biomedical research, particularly cancer and radiation research. By completing the stated goals set forth in this proposal, we anticipate that we will increase the quantity, quality and diversity of the next generation of scientists working in cancer and particularly radiation research.
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