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Duke receives grant to foster diversity in science

Duke faculty are coming together to form a comprehensive research community known as BioCoRE, with student participants from all levels of the University community.

BioCoRE—the Biosciences Collaborative for Research Engagement— is supported by a $1.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and aims to maximize the participation of underrepresented groups in the scientific research world. The grant has allowed faculty members to implement an institutional and integrative program in hopes of developing financial security, improving scientific community and providing mentorship for students who hope to enter careers in science.

“This is a program that endeavors to enhance the diversity of the scientific workforce, but it is not specifically a minority program,” said Dan Janes, a grant program official at the Institute. 

He added that the grant is given specifically to research intensive institutions capable of utilizing the funds. 

The program is co-directed by three faculty members who each represent a different aspect of the University. Kenneth Kreuzer, biochemistry professor and graduate faculty member, represents graduate students. Julie Reynolds, associate director of undergraduate studies in the biology department, handles undergraduate programs. Sherilynn Black, director of the Office of Biomedical Graduate Diversity at the School of Medicine, is responsible for building community within the program.

“The three of us had different areas of expertise, and we decided to combine them all to create this global institutional model to bring all of the scientific community together at Duke and to do it in an inclusive way,” Black said. “We wanted to make the program in a way that was inclusive and that benefited all different types of science, from thinking and input to the scientific process.”

In order to create a program that accomplished the task of tailored integration throughout the University, the team conducted a yearlong self-study, Reynolds noted. 

“Duke has a lot of fantastic programming to support students who have an interest in science research,” Reynolds said. “One of the things that this grant will allow us to do is to integrate some of those existing programs into new programs to create a more systematic approach to supporting students in that process.”

Undergraduates in the program are required to participate in four semesters of a paid internship at a research lab, one summer of support at a lab and a conference  to present their research during their senior year.

Black said that the students’ work in the research lab will be able to replace work-study, which is unique to BioCoRE.

“Our idea is that students who need to have a job can either spend their time working at a library or as a lifeguard, or they can spend their time working as a paid researcher in a scientific lab,” Reynolds said.

Further, undergraduates will receive individual pre-major advising from faculty members that will enable them to develop a more focused career path, Reynolds explained.

Graduate students will be integral to developing a strong scientific community by acting as mentors and reaching out to undergraduates and faculty through programs designed to improve relations, Kreuzer said. 

“What I am most looking forward to seeing is my students becoming excited about Duke’s rich intellectual dialogue,” Pete Chhoy, graduate student in pharmacology and cancer biology, said. “I can think of no other program like this where students, graduate and undergraduates together, can engage in this intellectual dialogue and discourse.”

The continued existence of the program rests on its future success. Although the grant covers BioCoRE for five years, its expansion will require more funds. 

“We will be looking to augment the program with other private sources as we go along,” Kreuzer said. “We hope that the program will also create spinoffs that are self-supporting and potentially independent of the grant.”

Due to an already extremely high participation response in both graduates and undergraduates, Black explained that the program has been built so that non-BioCoRE students can still reap its benefits.

“One of the things that we really tried to focus on is making sure that this inclusive program was actually inclusive,” Black said, adding that non-BioCoRE students are encouraged to participate in programs open to the entire university enabled by large faculty support.

Among these programs is a new monthly seminar titled “What Makes me a Scientist,” which targets institutional exclusion by highlighting scientific qualities and practices in students and faculty that may not be obvious.

“We’re planning on having all different types of people who are engaged in science in some way,” Black said. “It will help the students understand that there may be a role in science for them even if they didn’t previously consider it.”


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