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Grant a bridge to future for minorities in biomedical sciences field

By Keener A. Tippin II

 

In his 1984 speech at the Democratic national convention, Jesse Jackson spoke of the diversity of the United States, stating "Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow -- red, yellow, brown, black and white."

A new partnership between Kansas State University and five Kansas community colleges seeks to reflect the rainbow of the state's changing demographics by increasing the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing degrees in the biomedical sciences at four-year institutions.

Through Kansas Bridges to the Future, a three-year, $640,000 research training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health, K-State will partner with Seward County, Dodge City, Garden City and Kansas City (Kan.) Community Colleges, as well as Donnelly College in Kansas City in a grassroots effort to identify, mentor and guide minority students with potential into biomedical careers, according to the grant's principal investigator, Denis Medeiros, head of K-State's department of human nutrition. Medeiros and John Exdell, a K-State professor of philosophy, co-wrote the grant after establishing the partnership with the other colleges.

Denis Medeiros"We propose a grassroots effort beginning at the community college level to develop biomedical career awareness, enhance the academic preparation skills of selected Bridges students, seek parental involvement, and devote resources to the community colleges to allow for sufficient academic advisement of these students," said Medeiros, pictured at left. "The overall goal is to increase the number of Kansas minority students pursuing graduate degrees in the biomedical field."

Medeiros said the five community colleges -- Seward County, Garden City and Dodge City, which have a high enrollment of Hispanic students; Donnelly and Kansas City (Kan.) Community colleges, which each have a high percentage of African American students enrolled -- were selected to reflect diverse population of Hispanics and African Americans in their respective parts of the state.

"Many of the community colleges are the first choice of underrepresented minorities in pursuing their higher education goals," Medeiros said. "Many are first generation college-bound students."

Students identified for the Bridges program will receive dual admission into the community college as well as to K-State with tuition waivers. A short one-week summer institute will make Bridges students aware of scientific investigation and opportunities after their freshman year. After the second year, Bridges students will have the opportunity to work for eight weeks at K-State in the laboratory of a scientific investigator. Community college instructors will also be given an opportunity to work at a K-State laboratory for an eight-week summer period to help bridge gaps in research training and curriculum development. All students will be prepared in a rigorous foundation of science, chemistry and math to help assure their later success at a four-year institution. Students will be awarded a work stipend to enable them to work as research assistants for two years under K-State's Developing Scholars Program.

According to Medeiros, the National Institutes of Health and several other government agencies have for some time recognized that there are a number of underrepresented minorities who enter community colleges at the local level but for whatever reason their education stops there; they do not transfer on to four-year institutions.

"What the National Institutes of Health is trying to do is use the community colleges as a vehicle for attracting students at that level and getting them prepared and developing an interest in careers in biomedical research and allied sciences to transfer to four-year institutions like K-State," Medeiros said. "The idea is to get them engaged at an early part of their college career to not only build their interest up but to also give them the necessary tools to become successful and give them some first-hand experience of what it's like to work in a biomedical environment. Some may want to go on to pharmacy schools, some may go on to med schools or nursing schools or some may want to go into the basic biological sciences or health related sciences to do research. That's the overall goal of this program."

Students in the Bridges program who transfer to K-State will receive financial aid to cover their tuition for two to three years to complete their bachelor's degree. Once at K-State they will transfer into the developing scholars program as well but they will still have research experience and opportunities to work in the lab while they are here completing their undergraduate degree.

Students in the program are not required to stay in the state following graduation or to even attend K-State. While the program is designed to increase the numbers of minorities entering the field of biomedical sciences, Medeiros said nonminority students would also benefit from the program.

"We want our majority students to be more engaged in other cultures because in the real world that's what they will be working with," Medeiros said. "I think it is in their enlightened self-interest to have students from other backgrounds and themselves working side by side at the undergraduate level and we hope to have some of our own underrepresented students stay in Kansas to work in the biomedical field."

Fall 2003