UIC chancellor receives $1.4 million to recruit transfer students in sciences

health science students featured img2Backed by a $1.4 million federal grant, the University of Illinois at Chicago will launch a new program to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue degrees and research careers in the behavioral and biomedical sciences.

The five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, partners UIC with the City Colleges of Chicago in an effort to bolster recruitment, training, mentorship, and degree completion in health-related fields for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Beginning in 2014, UIC’s Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program will recruit 58 students, 18 in the first year and 10 in each of the remaining four years, who qualify to transfer to UIC from the City Colleges. Participants will pursue their UIC degree in one of three areas aligned with their research and career interests: nursing; public health; or liberal arts and sciences, in subject areas such as biology, chemistry, psychology or physics.

“Researchers from underrepresented populations are in high demand, given persistent societal health disparities,” said UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, the grant’s principal investigator.

“As one of the most diverse universities in the nation, UIC is well-positioned, and eager, to offer this program that will give transfer students from underrepresented backgrounds the skills to be successful not only in their academic career, but as professional health scientists,” Allen-Meares said.

The program will offer students an intensive summer research skills workshop, an assigned research mentor, access to peer-tutors, and support for science and academic skill development through group activities. A health science conference is also being planned.

Students selected for the program will begin preparation for baccalaureate studies at the conclusion of their freshman year.

The program’s public health track seeks to advance knowledge and skills not only in basic sciences, but in two disciplines — epidemiology and biostatistics — that are considered critical to understanding public health problems.

Students who bridge to the undergraduate nursing program will be trained in research methods and statistical analysis along with skills in managing the health-care needs of individuals and communities.

Students in any of the liberal arts and sciences subject areas will prepare for professional and graduate study in diverse specialties such as cancer biology, tissue engineering and neuroscience.

“This program will enhance the students’ basic research skills, such as quantitative and qualitative analysis, critical thinking and innovation,” Allen-Meares said. “These skills, and the capacity for leadership and collaboration, will be gained by working alongside faculty members in their respective programs.”

Retention and graduation rates will be tracked during and after the funding period to gauge the success of the program’s student support system.

The participants’ educational and career paths after graduation will be followed to gauge the program’s success in elevating the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds that enter graduate programs, receive doctoral degrees and pursue research careers.

The program also aims to foster collaborations and professional development opportunities between UIC and City Colleges of Chicago faculty that will enhance the educational experience for participating students, Allen-Meares said.

Current partnerships between UIC and the City Colleges include the Guaranteed Admission Transfer program, which offers City Colleges students guaranteed undergraduate admission to UIC after successful completion of their first two years of college, and a NIH-sponsored Bridges to the Doctorate for Minority Nursing Students program in the UIC College of Nursing.

The new program is also tied to UIC’s role directing the Illinois State Board of Education’s Health Science Learning Exchange, which began in 2012 as part of a $10.3 million public-private partnership to better prepare Illinois students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Allen-Meares and Bruce C. Neimeyer, associate vice chancellor for special programs, are co-investigators for a five-year $833,090 grant from the Department of Education to coordinate the exchange’s statewide network of businesses, employer associations, education partners, and other stakeholders.

Co-investigators on the new National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant include Neimeyer, Karin Opacich, Brian Kay, and Julie Zerwic of UIC and Michael Davis of the City Colleges of Chicago.

The City Colleges of Chicago is the largest community college system in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation, with 5,800 faculty and staff serving 120,000 students annually at seven colleges city-wide.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

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