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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Awarded $1.5 Million MARC Grant

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

A multidisciplinary collaboration led by two Old Dominion University professors has netted a $1.5 million Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health. This is the first time the University has been awarded a MARC grant.

For Alvin Holder, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Desh Ranjan, an endowed professor in computer science, securing the prestigious award has been years in the making.

The money, spread over five years, will be used to help underrepresented, minority undergraduates in STEM fields pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral sciences research.

ODU estimates that about 33 percent of undergraduates are classified as underrepresented, a factor that weighed heavily in the professors' decision to apply for the grant.

"It's a unique opportunity because we have strong research programs in sciences and a good pool of minority students who will qualify for the program," Ranjan said. "We want to help address a national need for diversity in STEM graduate education and especially in biomedical research."

The proportion of minority students drops significantly from bachelor's programs to graduate school. The MARC grant aims to prepare students for graduate work through a well-structured set of activities including research and the development of real-world skills.

Students, many of whom are likely to be first-generation college students, will also benefit from mentoring relationships with professors and other students.

The MARC program is the "gold standard for undergraduate research programs," said Gail Dodge, dean of the College of Sciences.

"We are thrilled at the success of Dr. Holder and Dr. Ranjan in securing one of these very competitive MARC grants," Dodge said. "One of our priorities for the College of Sciences is to increase opportunities for undergraduate research, and so we are happy to provide financial and logistical support for the MARC program."

Students also will have access to a 10-week opportunity at a research-extensive university and funding for travel to national conferences, including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

The idea is to create a culture shift both at the University and beyond, Holder said.

"It was hard work to get the grant, but the real hard work begins now," Holder and Ranjan said. "We want to prepare the students not only to go on to graduate school, but also to succeed there. The program will be transformational not only for the individual students but for ODU itself by significantly changing the culture of involving undergraduate students, especially STEM minority students, in research."

According to Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs. the award will benefit students across campus.

"I commend Dr. Holder and Dr. Ranjan for their persistence and commitment to increasing the involvement of minority students in research," Agho said. "The MARC award will position our campus to continue to play a leadership role in preparing underrepresented minority students to pursue graduate education in STEM."

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