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Council on Undergraduate Research Awarded a $533,000 NSF Grant

National efforts to boost minority participation in the STEM disciplines have resulted in modest increases in doctoral recipients in science and engineering disciplines....

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Focus Will Be Broadening Participation in Life Science Fields

Washington, DC-National efforts to boost minority participation in the STEM disciplines have resulted in modest increases in doctoral recipients in science and engineering disciplines, and national reports continue to highlight the urgency to increase the numbers of under-represented minorities in scientific fields. With the award of a $533,000 National Science Foundation Integrative Organismal Systems (NSF IOS) grant, three organizations will partner to alter this pattern. The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), the Leadership Alliance (TLA), and the American Physiological Society (APS) will team up to link their resources and develop innovative initiatives that will address the recruitment of undergraduate students from under-represented groups into graduate programs in integrative biological organismal fields, along with increasing the retention of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Key academic institution partners include Florida Southern College and the University of Kentucky.

Elizabeth Ambos, executive officer of CUR, and a co-principal investigator on the grant, said, "CUR is very pleased that this five-year project has received support from the NSF, is deeply appreciative of the opportunity to serve the IOS community, and to work with partner organizations APS and TLA. The activities supported by the grant funding will make a significant contribution to broadening and diversifying the STEM pipeline in the life sciences disciplines. Undergraduate research is a practice that links strongly to access, retention, and career success, and CUR believes that the combined efforts of the project partners will be productive and catalytic. One of CUR’s central strategic priorities is broadening and diversifying participation in undergraduate research, and our commitment to the partnerships and activities that form the core of the grant-funded effort is strong and sustained."

Mary Crowe, associate provost of experiential education at Florida Southern College and principal investigator on the grant stated, "I was thrilled to hear NSF recommended our grant for funding as this program aligns squarely within our broadening participation strategic initiative. It also helps us begin to develop programmatic activities for students - an important new constituency that CUR will serve since merging with NCUR last year." In 2011, the Council on Undergraduate Research joined with the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, which hosts an annual conference where more than 3,000 students present their research. Bessie Guerrant, Associate Director of the University of Kentucky’s Office of Undergraduate Research will play an integral role in leading and coordinating the programmatic activities of the grant.

The Leadership Alliance, a national academic consortium of 32 institutions with its executive office housed at Brown University, has supported over 2,300 undergraduates over the last 20 years through summer research experiences and ongoing mentoring. Nearly 250 of these students have continued into graduate education and completed either their Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D., and many others have completed other graduate or professional degree programs. The American Physiological Society has over 10,500 members committed to increasing diversity and mentoring the next generation of physiologists. To do this, APS focuses on expanding the pipeline and ensuring undergraduate experiences in research via meetings and publications.

Through the NSF Grant, CUR, TLA and APS will concentrate on key transitions of the educational pathway – advanced undergraduates, early graduate students (within the first two years of graduate school), and the progression of post-doctoral researchers into faculty careers. The innovative approach will address increasing under-represented minorities in biology across the entire educational pathway rather than treating each stage and transition in isolation. Over 1,000 individuals from under-represented groups will be directly impacted by the activities of this grant. After grant funding has concluded, the grant’s leadership team will develop a supportive community of faculty, administrators and staff committed to broadening participation in integrative biological organism fields who can sustain the practices learned.