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Wayne State University awarded $3 million from NIH to foster science and research careers

Detroit - The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced a five-year grant of more than $3 million to support the Wayne State University Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program.

WSU's IMSD program, established in 1978 as the Minority Biomedical Research Support program with NIH support, aims to provide undergraduate and graduate students with a more personalized experience to foster career development while enhancing persistence and success in science majors. The program provides undergraduates with opportunities to maximize academic and research skills, and helps graduate students gain experience in teaching, mentoring and course development.

At Wayne State, the program has supported more than 700 students. As of 2010, 390 of undergraduates in the program have gone on to complete bachelor's degrees, 64 have obtained master of science degrees, and 68 have gone on to complete doctorates.

"We're pleased that the NIH has seen fit to continue our efforts to support the research efforts of students who otherwise might not be able to take part in such activities," said Joseph Dunbar, Ph.D., WSU associate vice president for research and IMSD program director. "In line with its mission as an urban research university, Wayne State has a long tradition of offering research opportunities to underrepresented students, and this renewed support will allow us to continue to do so."

Students like Tamaria Dewdney have benefited from the IMSD program. "I fell in love with research, and that probably wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had that initial exposure to a research lab," said Dewdney, who completed her undergraduate work in 2009 and now is in the second year of a doctoral program in biochemistry. "Coming out of high school not a lot of people know about research, and I definitely was one of them."

Students also credit IMSD for introducing them to a wider range of academic and career options.

"There are a select few careers for scientists that you're aware of when you're in high school," said Dewdney. "Even in college a lot of people still don't know that there are more options than being a medical doctor if you're interested in science."

According to Charlotte Winston, a former IMSD student who earned her master's degree in 2007 and now is working on a Ph.D., "I was a nontraditional student, with no one in my family to tell me about the college experience. I had to learn on my own. This program really opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me."

The program has benefited faculty as well as students.

"The IMSD program has been important to me and provides much-needed and much-welcome individuals to help me in my research," said Donal O'Leary, Ph.D., professor of physiology, who studies cardiovascular function and has worked with a number of IMSD undergraduate and doctoral students. "I find it very rewarding to work with these individuals and see them grow over the years."

Added Antonia Abbey, Ph.D., professor of psychology, "Like all students they help broaden your knowledge base. They come to you with questions you wouldn't have thought about ahead of time, and together you explore them."

While that exploration involves learning how to do research, students also must give presentations to groups outside their field of study, often at national meetings.

"Through IMSD, they interact with students from other departments and learn how to explain things to broader audiences," said Christine Chow, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"They sometimes recognize that something they thought was an issue only in their area is really true for all academics," Abbey said, adding that the program also teaches students about networking, research and professional development things they can find difficult at first.

"You can't just sit in a class and take notes," she said. "You have to be more proactive."

Faculty members credit Dunbar with keeping students on track. Student participants also have developed good relationships with Rasheeda Zafar, Ph.D., IMSD program coordinator, who is often a confidante for them. For example, she recently helped smooth a former student's adjustment to graduate school.

"I think throughout their entire careers they'll be attached to this program," Chow said of IMSD participants.

Sometimes those careers can be noteworthy. O'Leary cited Eric Ansorge, who did research at WSU on heart failure and is now a U.S. Army major in charge of a large biomedical research program.

"The IMSD program works," O'Leary said. "It takes underrepresented individuals with challenges in their lives and gets them into a program in which they can thrive."

"It's wonderful that we still have this resource," Abbey said.


Contact: Julie O'Connor
Wayne State University - Office of the Vice President for Research

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