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Release: April 8, 1999

UI wins $2-million grant to promote careers in biomedical research

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa has won a $2-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a program to encourage minority students to pursue careers in biomedical research. The grant will support a new UI program called The Iowa Biosciences Advantage, which will offer research opportunities, academic support, and faculty mentoring to minority students who are interested in biomedical research and who have demonstrated interest and ability in high school math and science.

Peter Nathan, a UI professor of psychology and the principal investigator for the grant, said he has heard "a lot of enthusiasm from the faculty about starting this program." Faculty support will be crucial he said, because students in the program will need faculty mentors and will collaborate with faculty on research projects. In addition, faculty members will assist with recruiting students to the program by developing relationships with high school teachers in Iowa and the Midwest in order to identify students who have the potential for careers in biomedical research.

"The high school teachers know these students well," Nathan said. "We need them to help us find the students who have the skills and the desire to take their interest in math and science to the highest level of research. I've been pleased with the willingness of faculty to serve as mentors and recruiters."

Christopher Squier, a UI professor of oral pathology and associate dean for research in the College of Dentistry, worked with Nathan on developing the program and said he believes it can introduce students to career paths they might not otherwise know about.

"There are remarkably few minority students going into graduate biomedical science," Squier said. "To have high school teachers aware of the opportunity we are offering so that they can look out for students to join the program is very important. We need to be starting earlier to make students aware of the career opportunities in biosciences."

The Iowa Biosciences Advantage is a four-year program in which students will be introduced to research and laboratory methods as freshmen and will perform research with faculty mentors beginning the summer before their first year on campus. By their junior year, students will work on their own research projects under the direction of their faculty mentors. Students will receive career counseling about opportunities in biomedical research as well as assistance in preparing for graduate school entrance exams.

Michael Barron, UI director of admissions, said the breadth of the UI program makes it unique. At many universities it would be difficult if not impossible for undergraduates to work with the top researchers in medical sciences because the medical school is located away from the main undergraduate campus.

"We have all the ingredients for a top-notch program right here in Iowa City," he said. "Our integrated program will connect senior, nationally-known researchers with undergraduate students, giving them unparalleled opportunities for mentorship and laboratory experience. We have already seen a great deal of interest in this program, and we have every reason to believe it will be very successful."

Nathan said the program will accept up to 20 students each year. He said the additional support the program offers will allow more students who enter the UI planning to major in math or science to fulfill that goal and graduate after four years with a science major and a strong research background that will propel them into graduate school.

"Our efforts are part of a national effort to solve a pipeline problem — that is, not enough minority students are pursuing careers in biomedical research," Nathan said. "Here they will have an enriched undergraduate experience that is built on the University of Iowa's existing strength in graduate biomedical science. We will be exploiting that strength for the benefit of our undergraduate scholars."