Even though the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been raging for over 30 years, the need for awareness, education, and research remains critically important. Many of our high school trainees, who are now college undergraduates, remain curious about HIV pathogenesis of the central nervous system and why a cure has been so difficult to develop. A few of these trainees have been touched directly, as they hail from countries in which the incidence and prevalence of HIV infection remains high and have observed firsthand its impact on individuals and families in these communities. Such experiences help inspire the development of a research scientist. However, in many regions of the USA, opportunities to do research as an undergraduate are not available locally. This is a critical gap as we know the transformative role that experiential research education experiences play in connecting didactic learning with real-world application and innovative ideation. We hypothesize that by exposing highly motivated undergraduates, particularly those that reside in high HIV-1 incidence/prevalence regions to an education-research mentoring institute focused on NeuroHIV and its associated comorbidities, there will be a significant increase in those who express strong motivation and persistence to pursue a research career in this field.
This aim will be accomplished with a suite of tools, resources and human capital leveraged and integrated through our existing successful training programs which include: a didactic web-based course covering basic and clinical research on the complications of HIV infection of the central nervous system, subject area experts from the fields of NeuroHIV, aging, neuroscience, psychiatry and mental health, who will serve as research and career mentors, and as an initial source for recruitment, current undergraduates who participated as high school students in our NIMH-funded training program Project Pipeline Baltimore and showed a strong interest in HIV brain science research. Additional opportunities for education and/or clinical experiences will also be available through our School of Public Health, the Center for AIDS Research, the Bartlett Clinic and the AIDS/HIV Education Center. Through an innovative student-centered approach, the individual development plan approach will be used in one-on-one mentoring with expert faculty mentors to assist trainees in developing and planning their next career steps. Undergraduates will be introduced to cutting-edge topical areas of research necessary for them to develop the skills and knowledge that will enable them to work in a cross-disciplinary fashion. Through the completion of capstone projects and presentations, trainees will develop their abilities to read and understand the scientific literature, and gain practice in the communication of science in written and oral formats. Additional professional development will cover topics such as unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and imposter syndrome. The design of the proposed intervention will help position participants with the knowledge, skills, exposure and training needed for them to tackle and solve important research questions in NeuroHIV and its co-morbid conditions as future graduate students.
This proposal by preparing qualified undergraduates from both urban and rural areas will help strengthen our workforce focused on research and clinical care at the interface of HIV- neurologic dysfunction and associated comorbidities.