Duke Wins Federal Funds to Develop Diverse Scientists

Community-building, connection to mentors to encourage biomedical science careers.

Duke University is launching a program to promote diversity and develop scientific talent in undergraduates and graduate students. The Biosciences Collaborative for Research Engagement (BioCoRE) will be supported by a $1.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).

"There's always a need to cultivate scientists to the best of their ability," said Sherilynn Black, director of Duke's office of biomedical graduate diversity in the school of medicine, and co-leader of the grant. But for students from underrepresented groups, there can also be a need to help them feel engaged in the scientific community, she said. 

At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the BioCoRE program will have several activities built on what Black calls "a community engagement model." The program will engage students from the Pratt School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, the Graduate School and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

"The idea is culture change," Black said. BioCoRE students will be connected to peer and faculty mentors and have opportunities to attend national scientific conferences. "We'll be creating scientific bridges between the graduate and undergraduate communities," she said. 

A new freshman seminar called "Pathways To Biomedical And Biological Research" will help first-year students tap into undergraduate research opportunities and build a sense of community, said Julie Reynolds, associate director of undergraduate studies in the biology department.

Incoming BioCoRE graduate students will receive a one-month stipend to allow them to arrive in Durham earlier, get started with their new lab and meet others in the network before the rush of school begins in the fall. "This helps them get established in their lab and learn their way around and it creates a cohort of support for students," Black said. 

Duke will also establish a two-day symposium in late summer bringing together students and faculty from across the state for workshops, mentoring, education and "a celebration of student research," said biochemistry professor and graduate faculty member Kenneth Kreuzer.

The program is Duke's first award from a National Institutes of Health program called the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, or IMSD. Kreuzer said it should enable Duke to support up to ten undergraduate students in each class, plus about 20 graduate students each year. 

"IMSD aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral research," said Dan Janes, Ph.D., an IMSD program official at the NIGMS. "It does this by supporting internship and other student development programs that prepare participants for Ph.D. programs and entry into the scientific workforce."  The project is being supported by NIH Grant 1R25GM103765.