Although there have been numerous efforts to increase the number of underrepresented researchers in universities across the country, there continues to be a lack of diversity in most disciplines, including the biomedical sciences. We will leverage our experience in training underrepresented minority students and our expertise and connections related to NIDDK mission areas to ensure that we are inspiring and developing the next generation of NIDDK researchers.
The specific aims of UAB STEP-UP: Promoting Diversity through Mentored Research Experiences (UAB STEP-UP) include: 1) training promising and diverse undergraduate students from across the country by developing a career roadmap for each, to include hands-on mentored research experiences and career development opportunities; 2) utilizing existing research networks to develop a cadre of mentors invested in training undergraduate students to conduct research in the areas of diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutritional disorders, and obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases; 3) adapting successful on-site training programs into effective distance learning activities targeting NIDDK content areas and preparation for graduate school and/or future careers in research; 4) utilizing a combination of human interaction (i.e., Program Manager, Institutional Coordinators, mentors and other trainees) and virtual tools (e.g., web-based instruction, videoconferencing and social media) to ensure that trainees receive individual and continuous attention for several years as a cohort of learners; and 5) continuously evaluating the program and its implementation to allow for quality improvement and mid- course corrections. The UAB STEP-UP Coordinating Center will select motivated, promising undergraduate students who have completed their freshman year and provide them with the organizational, academic and research skills needed to be competitive. Elements include an intensive mentored research experience for 10 weeks in the summer (30 hours/week) enhanced by virtual group learning activities (10 hours/week), and followed by distance learning as part of a virtual learning cohort during Years 1 and 2. This is followed by virtual maintenance training during Year 3, to maintain interest and investment in the program. During this time, trainees will develop working relationships with academic researchers and will be involved with the processes and products of cutting-edge research. Although intensive training is provided only during the summer, we have designed a program with a UAB-based Program Manager and on-site Institutional Coordinators, who will help ensure that trainees remain connected to the program through virtual learning approaches and social media platforms throughout the entire year. They will facilitate contact for training, continued mentoring, evaluation and ? importantly ? to maintain connection with the program.
In order to address diseases that affect our population, we must ensure that our researchers are representative of the full range of our population. Though our demographic landscape is changing, the NIH funding landscape has changed little over the past several decades. This program will improve the training and career development of undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds underrepresented nationally in biomedical research, so that the process and products of scientific discovery are as robust as possible.