The opportunity for undergraduates to conduct research is a critical element for developing a rigorous program in biomedical education. Specifically, it provides an experiences not normally part of lecture- or laboratory-based course work and it prepares students for post-graduate training or careers in basic research or clinical disciplines. However, opportunities for undergraduate biomedical research experiences are not uniformly available across the United States with both underrepresented minorities and students from primarily rural areas being especially underserved. Many of these undergraduates are first generation college students and attend institutions that less extramural support for biomedical research compared to institutions in more populous states. The Summer Program for Undergraduate Research in Addiction or SPURA at the University of South Dakota (USD) was developed to address this deficit with support from the NIDA and is seeking renewal of this support to continue this work.
The specific aims of this program are: (1) To expand undergraduate research opportunities for students in South Dakota, with an emphasis on quality training of first generation college students, students from rural backgrounds, and students who are from underrepresented minorities. (2) To encourage a greater number of South Dakotan students to participate in research and to ultimately pursue post-graduate research careers and/or training in areas related to substance abuse and related mental health issues. (3) To advance the field of substance abuse and related or underlying mental health issues by fostering cross-collaborative student training and research at the University of South Dakota. Each summer, this program will enroll eight students in a multi-disciplinary research experience aimed at providing students with an opportunity to conduct mentored, hypothesis-driven studies in the fields related to drug addiction and underlying mental health issues. The program will incorporate a wide range of experimental approaches including human and animal behavior studies, systems neuroscience, neuropharmacology, and electrophysiology. Faculty involved in this program will include members of the Departments of Biology and Psychology (both part of the School of Arts and Sciences) and Basic Biomedical Sciences (part of the USD Sanford School of Medicine). Over the last four years the SPURA program has been highly successful having supported 36 students, all of whom have either continued their undergraduate studies, enrolled in research- or professional health-based post-graduate education programs, or have become employed.
The proposed training program is designed to facilitate the pipeline of young promising scientists in the field of substance abuse and mental health research. This is important given that substance abuse and related mental health issues pose a significant social, health and financial burden within the U.S., and the treatment of substance abuse and dependence is often compounded by severe mental illness. Therefore, it is critical to increase the pool of quality, innovative and highly motivated scientists in the area of substance abuse in mental health research.
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