UMass Amherst Institute Receives $1.6 Million NIH Award to Support Grad Students in Biomedical Research

AMHERST, Mass. – A newly formed institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that serves as a campus-wide umbrella to coordinate diversity initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has received a four-year, $1.6 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund one-year internships for post-baccalaureate students from underrepresented groups interested in biomedical and biobehavioral research.
 
Sandra Petersen, director of the STEM Diversity Institute (SDI) and professor of veterinary and animal sciences, is the principal investigator of the award with Lynmarie Thompson, associate professor of chemistry. The grant is a renewal of a previous NIH Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) award to the campus that served 40 students, most of whom are now in doctoral or other professional programs at more than 20 institutions including UMass Amherst, according to Petersen.
 
The PREP is directed by Vanessa Hill. This NIH postbaccalaureate research education program is for students who have graduated within the past three years, preparing them for PhD programs by enhancing their research skills.
 
Petersen says, “We are extremely proud of our success in attracting support for UMass Amherst graduate students in STEM disciplines. This grant allows us to materially support and prepare post-baccalaureate students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and those with disabilities for doctoral studies in biomedical and biobehavioral disciplines.”
 
“Through experience we’ve found the PREP to be an effective way of identifying untapped talent in students who have graduated within the previous three years, but not yet entered graduate programs. The year of mentored internship funded by the PREP grant increases the confidence of underrepresented students and allows them to excel in graduate school.”  
 
The SDI director points out that racial and ethnic minorities make up more than 29 percent of the U.S. population, a figure that is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2042. Yet, they currently make up less than 10 percent of the scientific workforce. Similarly, women constitute more than 50 percent of the population, but less than 30 percent of the scientific workforce.
 
Receiving the PREP grant now is good timing, she adds, because the UMass Amherst SDI also received a five-year, $2.7 million NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) grant within the past year. It is coordinated by Heyda Martinez, and co-principal investigators Petersen and Professors Barry Braun, kinesiology, Don Fisher, mechanical and industrial engineering, and Sally Powers, psychology.
 
The project funds new recruitment strategies, as well as stage-specific mentoring and professional development activities in partnership with Bennett College, Jackson State University, Lincoln University, Medgar Evers College and the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.
 
“With these two major sources of support, we now have a well paved pathway to the doctoral degree for underrepresented students in biomedical and biobehavioral fields,” says Petersen.