UAMS Intern Program Participants Present at National Conference

By Spencer Watson

The program offers undergraduate and even high school students the opportunity to work alongside researchers in a professional lab setting. This year, three college students were selected to present posters at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), held in Indianapolis in November.

They were: Christopher Holt, a sophomore at North Carolina A&T State University; Alexis Howe, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University; and A’Vonte Jones, a senior at the University of Arkansas.

Chase Swinton

Chase Swinton

Additionally, SRI participant and Sylvan Hills High School senior Chase Swinton traveled to Massachusetts to attend the Harvard Science Research Conference.

“Basically what we do is we get them into research form,” said Antiño R. Allen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy Division of Radiation Health and the director of the SRI program. “We get them prepared so that people will say, ‘those young people who come out of UAMS, we really want them, because they’ve got the tools, they’ve got the skillset, and you can plug them right into a lab.’”

Howe, an Arkansas native who worked with Allen as her mentor, won first place in neuroscience at ABRCMS for her presentation, a NASA-funded study of the effects of deep space radiation on cognition that also looked for differences in radiation effects based on gender.

As with other outreach programs at the Center for Diversity Affairs, the SRI program is intended to reach underserved and disadvantaged student populations, said Kimberlynn Blann-Anderson, director of outreach programs for Diversity Affairs.

“People can define being disadvantaged in many different ways. It can be socioeconomic, geographical, ability status, being raised in the foster care system and in some cases having experienced homelessness,” she said.

Allen said one of the unique aspects of the program is that it covers a broad base of sciences and provides participating students with the research infrastructure available at UAMS to explore those varied research interests.

“We have researchers from all over UAMS who participate in this as mentors. So it’s an opportunity for us to bring in not just the basic science people, but also students like Chris Holt, who was looking at health outcomes. With the SRI program being somewhat broad, that allows for a wider array of students with different academic backgrounds.”

In addition to displaying the quality of researchers that UAMS can produce, Allen said the program naturally provides numerous benefits to the students themselves.

“Although it’s an avenue that most students don’t know they have, it does a couple things for them. For one, they get to work in a lab for the summer and get paid. It’s also an opportunity to interact with graduate students and faculty members,” he said. “I always tell these students, treat your research opportunity as if it were an interview, because it sets them apart. It’s a new experience.”