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

ODU Awarded a $1.6M NIH Grant to Advance Underrepresented Minority Doctoral Candidates in the Biomedical Research Field

By Joe Garvey

The first cohort of the Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (G-RISE) will arrive at Old Dominion University this summer on their path to make a lasting impact in the field of biomedical research.

G-RISE is designed increase the diversity of biomedical researchers by attracting underrepresented students from minority, military, socioeconomically disadvantaged and disability groups to the field.

The program is funded by a $1.6 million renewable grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) awarded to principal investigator Gymama Slaughter, executive director of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, and co-PI Alvin Holder, associate professor of chemistry and director of ODU's Maximizing Access to Research Careers Program (MARC).

The award also comes with a $1.1 million institutional match from ODU.

"This grant enhances our already strong efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive student body at ODU," President John R. Broderick said. "Beyond that, the students who earn their doctorates through this program will bring diversity to the workforce in this important field not just in Hampton Roads, but nationally and internationally as well."

G-RISE helps students make a successful transition to a doctoral degree program and prepare them to enter the biomedical research workforce by strengthening their knowledge set, research skills and "soft skills."

"This award shows that ODU's biomedical doctoral program, which extends across multiple colleges and centers, has achieved a level of maturity and national recognition," said Morris Foster, ODU's vice president for research. "ODU is uniquely positioned to leverage that accomplishment to contribute to a more diverse pipeline of biomedical PhDs."

"This grant will repair the leaking pipeline and allow more underrepresented minority students to get a Ph.D.," Holder added.

The scholars are supported by best practice-models for enhancing student success and building capacity at the doctorate level at ODU.

"Training the next generation of biomedical researchers is fundamental and achieving diversity and inclusion in the biomedical workforce is critical to meeting our national research goals," Slaughter said. "Achieving inclusive excellence is crucial to filling critical gaps in the field."

G-RISE scholars' education at ODU is fully funded. Students will receive yearly stipends, tuition waivers and health insurance. They also will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of endeavors, such as the summer doctoral bridge program, mentorship training, career development, biotech internships and research experiences at government national laboratories.

"Our partnership with Virginia Bio's biotech industry provides paths toward employment for our scholars, where they receive paid summer internships, job training and possible employment placement upon graduation," Slaughter said. "This institutional grant is critical to attract and retain top underrepresented minority students who can enter Virginia biomedical workforce."

The G-RISE program also aims to establish a Memorandum of Understanding from other research-active universities that would enable ODU's military students, upon deployment, to continue their research. The financial, research and career development training support provided by the program will help doctoral students complete their degree on time.

"The ODU community aims to prepare students not just for a career, but for all the challenges they will encounter as they pursue a doctoral degree in the biomedical research field," Slaughter said. "At ODU, the network of students, professors and advisors are ready to guide students every step of the way."

The G-RISE program at ODU engages three biomedical research colleges, a research center, and the Graduate School to develop minority scientists in Hampton Roads. The participating ODU departments most involved in the program are Electrical and Computer Engineering (Biomedical Engineering); Mechanical Engineering, Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Biological Sciences; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Computer Science; Medical Diagnostic and Translational Sciences; and Community and Environmental Health.

"The awarding of the G-RISE grant helps to cement ODU's reputation as an important center for biomedical research in a variety of STEM fields," said Robert Wojtowicz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. "Moreover, it is only by training more scientists from underrepresented backgrounds that we can hope to address the health disparities currently existing in Hampton Roads and beyond."

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