April 21, 2009

UAMS Graduate School, Center for Diversity Affairs Receives $1.6 Million NIH Diversity Grant

LITTLE ROCK – As many as 24 minority students could get a boost toward a doctorate in biomedical research with help from a four-year, $1.6 million federal grant to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Graduate School. 

The first four students are already enrolled for fall 2009 under the program. After that, six new students each year are expected to enter one of the seven biomedical science doctoral programs, said UAMS Graduate School Dean Robert McGehee, Ph.D.

The qualifying students will receive tuition and a stipend through the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“There are still very few minority health professionals, and when you get to the basic sciences, the numbers are even worse,” said Billy Thomas, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for the Center for Diversity Affairs in the UAMS College of Medicine and a professor of pediatrics.

McGehee and Thomas are the principal investigators for the grant, along with Kristen Sterba, Ph.D., assistant dean for the Graduate School’s Office of Recruiting and Retention.

“This is one of the first major grants we’ve received targeting recruitment of minority graduate students,” McGehee said.

The IMSD program was developed to increase the number of underrepresented minority students graduating with doctorates in biomedical research. It funds the first two years of study in one of the seven biomedical science programs (biochemistry and molecular biology, interdisciplinary biomedical sciences, interdisciplinary toxicology, microbiology and immunology, neurobiology and developmental sciences, pharmacology, and physiology and biophysics). For the student’s last two years of school, funding will be provided by the graduate program or the faculty mentor.

Students selected for the IMSD Program also will participate in an eight-week summer transition program consisting of lectures on various biomedical topics, career and developmental seminars, and a summer research rotation prior to the fall of their first year. Students will receive funding and academic credit during this transition program. 

“We are also looking at students at the undergraduate level, not just incoming graduate students,” Thomas said.

Undergraduates who qualify for early acceptance to the program in their junior year will become Phillip L. Rayford Scholars, named for the first African-American department chairman in the UAMS College of Medicine. By meeting academic and research requirements, as well as being admitted to a summer research program following their sophomore year, these scholars can position themselves for an easier transition to graduate school.

Also, through a partnership with the Arkansas INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) program based at UAMS, the Rayford scholars are guaranteed a mentored summer research fellowship following their junior year.

Additional benefits of the IMSD Program includes a formal mentoring program, a seminar series featuring nationally recognized minority scientists, development of a competency-based academic portfolio, and group problem-solving sessions.

Students will be selected for the IMSD Program based on several criteria including academic performance and research experience, Sterba said. More information on how to qualify or apply for the program can be found online at www.uams.edu/gradschool/pro_students/IMSD.asp.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a new 540,000-square-foot hospital, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or uamshealth.com.