SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP FOR UNDERGRADUATES
Zaida Ramirez-Ortiz (above) is a Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences student who attended the NIH Fellowship Program when she was a sophomore in college. The experience helped her decide to attend the GSBS. "As a minority student, I had the opportunity to come to UMass Medical School and work with outstanding faculty and researchers. It shows that if you work hard and overcome educational and cultural barriers, you too can be an example for the next generation."
Annie Wang had a difficult experience in a research lab as a college freshman, but her passion for bench science was rekindled when she participated in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Summer Research Fellowship Program at UMass Medical School.
Now a first-year medical student in Rhode Island, Wang worked in the lab of UMMS Associate Professor of Medicine Pranoti Mandrekar, PhD, exploring the relationship between alcohol and the body’s immune system. “It was a great opportunity for me,” Wang said on her first day of medical school in January 2009. “It was the first time I was really able to work independently in a lab, running my own experiment, testing my own gels. But at the same time, I had the support and guidance of Dr. Mandrekar and the entire lab.”
Started in 1993 and funded by the NIH and UMMS, the Fellowship Program strives to diversify the pool of biomedical researchers and attract underrepresented groups through hands-on experience and exploration.
“The real-life experience students gain from this program can have a significant impact on their decision to pursue biomedical research as a career option,” said Mandrekar, who has been hosting undergraduate students from the program in her lab for six years. “It’s more than an academic experience. Students learn what it means to be in a research environment where there are no time constraints.”
Above, the 2008 NIH Fellows gather in the UMass Medical School lobby with Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity participants.
More than 230 undergraduate students from the local community and around the country have participated in the Fellowship Program since its inception, and 76 of those students have gone on to pursue biomedical research at the graduate school level, enroll in medical school or join the ranks of professionals in research laboratories. At UMMS, three former fellows have enrolled at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) while approximately 20 others have entered the School of Medicine.
Zaida Ramirez-Ortiz is a graduate of the Fellowship Program who is currently a fifth-year GSBS student, researching how a particular fungal pathogen activates a subset of immune cells during infection. “I came undecided as a fellow about pursuing medical school or graduate school. Experience at the bench decided it for me,” said Ramirez-Ortiz, who also noted the access she had to minority research faculty during the Fellowship. Their input about career paths was very helpful to her; she now contributes to the program by helping today’s Fellowship students polish their poster projects.
More than 230 undergraduate students from the local community and around the country have participated in the Fellowship program since its inception. At UMMS, former fellows have enrolled in the GSBS and the School of Medicine.
“It has long been documented that students from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t adequately prepared for a science profession,” said Vice Provost for School Services and Professor of Cell Biology Deborah Harmon Hines, PhD, who directs the Fellowship Program. Dr. Hines said that many of these students have not been exposed to science as a career option because they are the first members of their family to go to college or their communities don’t have adequate access to resources for students to learn more about scientific careers.
The NIH Fellowship Program fills this gap each year by providing 24 undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct a complex lab experiment, mentored by a UMMS faculty member, from start to finish. Students learn how to develop a hypothesis, keep a lab book and report findings.
“After 10 weeks, they might find that their experiments don’t work,” said Hines. “But they come away with a real idea of what the field is all about, what a career in the sciences might be like and whether this might be something they want to do with their lives.”
NIH Summer Research Fellowship
This information appears in the UMMS 2008 Annual Report. PDF available.