Hampton University Awarded $1,554,390 to Prepare Students for Biomedical Research Careers

HAMPTON, Va. (June 16, 2020) –Hampton University has been awarded a five-year $1,554,390 grant from the National Institutes of Health – National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH-NIGMS). This funding comes from the Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE), which requires recipients to train and develop a diverse pool of undergraduate students in biomedical research to transition to research-focused higher degree programs.

“Hampton University continues to evolve, to make new strides in research, and to be at the forefront of innovation. Thank you to the NIH for continuing to invest in the success of our students. We know that the Hamptonians who complete this program will go on to be leaders in the biomedical field, and will truly change the world,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey.

Through this funding opportunity, NIGMS expects that the proposed research training programs will incorporate didactic, research, mentoring, and career development elements to prepare trainees for the completion of research-focused higher degree programs in biomedical fields.

Drs. Michelle Penn-Marshall, Luisel Ricks-Santi, and Oluwatoyin Ajibola Asojo all serve as Principal Investigators for the grant. To make things run smoothly, the PI’s split up the responsibilities of the grant. Dr. Ricks-Santi communicates with NIH and is in charge of the students, Dr. Asojo communicates with the faculty and mentors, and Dr. Penn-Marshall facilitates with administration.

Dr. Cecile Androas-Selim, retired Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received a grant award from NIH to fund the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program in 2014. That grant was a five-year $1.5 million award, which was a program that addresses the need to reduce the disparity in the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds in biomedical research careers. Because the funding ended in 2019, the PI’s needed to reapply for the grant.

“We originally had a MARC grant and about two years ago, because there was so much overlap between MARC and URISE, NIH decided to streamline the program. When we went back to apply again for the grant, we had to apply for the URISE. It took about a year from when we finished writing it, for it to be awarded to us,” said Dr. Ricks-Santi, Director of the Hampton University Cancer Research Center.

There are two parts of the URISE program that Hampton University students can be eligible for depending on student classification, GPA and other factors. The Pre-URISE program prepares students for the URISE scholarship program.

The Pre-URISE program’s requirements are:

  • Freshmen and sophomores who are interested in pursuing a PhD or MD/PhD in biomedical sciences;
  • Must major in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, chemical engineering, mathematics, physics or psychology; and
  • Must agree to complete URISE curriculum

Pre-URISE students receive mentoring and research opportunities, networking opportunities with the best scientists in the nation, summer research internships and more.

The URISE program’s requirements are:

  • Rising junior
  • 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Interested in pursuing PhD in Biomedical Sciences
  • Must major in biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering, mathematics, physics or psychology
  • Must agree to complete rigorous URISE curriculum

URISE students receive tuition scholarship, monthly stipend, travel to scientific conferences, mentor and research opportunities, career development and much more.

The MARC program was designated for only biology, biochemistry and chemical engineering majors, but the new URISE program includes additional majors because biomedical research has become interdisciplinary and it takes an interdisciplinary team to solve biomedical problems. “Biomedical research is a very dynamic and all-encompassing field. You can be a behavioral scientist and study the social aspects of why people get cancer. You can be a physicist and study how cancer moves in the body. You can be a chemist and study drugs. We wanted to increase the interdisciplinary nature of the URISE program and in the future, we hope to include even more majors,” said Dr. Ricks-Santi.

Dr. Asojo is the Chair of the Hampton University Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and she is very excited to be part of this grant. “Our department is graduating a record number of students, and we take great pride in the fact that we continue to produce more female minority chemists and biochemists than institutions significantly larger than us. Many of our students go on to graduate school to study for their master’s degree and PhD. This grant will help so many of our students prepare for the biomedical field and to help solve the problems that affect so many underrepresented people,” said Dr. Asojo.

Dr. Penn-Marshall, Vice President for Research, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate College, has been involved with the MARC program since 2014. “I am grateful for Drs. Androas-Selim’s and Cindy Thomas-Charles’ dedication to the MARC program. It is my privilege to be able to work alongside Drs. Luisel Ricks-Santi and Oluwatoyin Asojo to build upon the success of the MARC program by continuing to train a diverse pool of undergraduate students who will enroll in and complete a PhD or MD/PhD biomedical research program,” said Dr. Penn-Marshall. “There is an urgent need to increase diversity in the field, thereby strengthening the country’s capacity for biomedical research and innovation, and filling in gaps in the workforce. Hampton University has a long record of accomplishment of producing highly qualified STEM professionals. I am honored to be able to position our students to reach their destinies and to improve the world in which we live, by using their gifts and talents.”

Dr. Ricks-Santi is a Hampton University alumna who was actually a MARC student during her undergraduate career, so being involved in helping bring it back and now with URISE is a dream come true. “I’m very passionate about this program. I believe it has done wonders for me in my career, and I just want to give others the opportunity to feel like they belong, that there’s nothing wrong in wanting to be in the lab,” said Dr. Ricks-Santi. “Working with my colleagues was really easy. I couldn’t have had better PI’s and we work very well together. We are inspired by our students, so we want to make sure other students do well.”

Dr. Luisel Ricks-Santi
Dr. Oluwatoyin Ajibola Asojo
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