Partnerships range from new $1.4 million grant for undergraduate research, unique student scholarships and an HHMI professorship that has lasted over a decade.
BATON ROUGE – LSU, a Tier I institution and the state’s Flagship University, has cultivated a rich and varied research community that spans its oak-lined campus. It only makes sense that a university of its stature would also have cultivated a unique and long-lived relationship with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or HHMI, one of the most prestigious philanthropic organizations in the world dedicated solely to funding biomedical research and advancements. In 2010, LSU celebrates its 21st year of consecutive HHMI support.
“HHMI provides funding and resources for the future of biomedical research, whether that involves awarding our faculty’s accomplishments at a national level, as is the case with Dr. Isiah Warner,” said Randy Duran, director of LSU’s new office of undergraduate research and Gordon A. Cain Chair in Scientific, Technological, Engineering and Mathematical Literacy. “We are proud to be one of the only universities in the country with such a long-standing tradition of partnerships with HHMI.”
And those partnerships are myriad. Spanning from the support of a new undergraduate research partnership with Morehouse College and Southern University, two of the nation’s best HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to a one-of-a-kind project currently in the planning stages with LSU Press, the university is a willing recipient of and participant in the thriving research endeavors of HHMI.
Duran is the principal investigator of a new $1.4 HHMI science education grant targeted at increasing the value of research experiences for undergraduates. No stranger to working with HHMI, Duran came to LSU last year from the University of Florida, where he had also worked with the institute, and now that he’s here, he has big ideas for HHMI at LSU.
“Since LSU already has such a rich tradition of work with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, including such programs as our fantastic Scope-on-a-Rope program run by Adrienne Lopez, and our biological sciences boot camp-style orientation for incoming freshman with Sheri Wischusen, we have some great material to work with already,” said Duran. “We have a solid foundation to build from.”
Duran’s multi-faceted grant will support several initiatives, including partnerships with Southern University, Morehouse College and HHMI Professor Isiah Warner. To facilitate this collaborative effort, Morehouse Professor James Brown and Dean of Southern’s Honors College Beverly Wade have been appointed as adjunct faculty in LSU’s Honors College. These initiatives are designed to get undergraduates started in research earlier in their college careers and to provide exiting options for off-campus research when the students are experienced and ready.
In addition to working with Morehouse, Duran is taking students out of their classrooms – and their comfort zones – to see the world while getting some hands-on experience focusing on infectious diseases.
“Infectious disease is one of the main causes of mortality, particularly in countries throughout Africa,” said Duran. “I believe that giving students the opportunity to see their research applied to such a devastating problem helps them to maintain focus and drive.”
Participating students will have the opportunity to work with internationally-respected infectious diseases researchers in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. In particular, Duran’s group, together with LSU Professor Isiah Warner, has forged a partnership with the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa, that is expected to be beneficial for all involved parties – and to deliver impact to communities affected by the spread of infectious diseases.
“But there are many more avenues of research and applied learning that we plan to pursue under the auspices of HHMI’s generous grant,” said Duran. “Our end goal is to motivate students, particularly under-represented groups, into STEM careers. The institute’s support is helping to make that a reality.”
Vice Chancellor Isiah Warner, Office of Strategic Initiatives, recently received an unprecedented second renewal of his HHMI professorship – an award that is generally not renewed even once.
“It has been a wonderful experience to work so closely – and for so long – with HHMI,” said Warner, whose additional titles include Boyd Professor and Philip W. West Chair in Air Quality/Environmental Analytical Chemistry. “These eight years have afforded both me and my students great opportunities to conduct grounded research that truly has a tangible impact on the world.”
Warner’s award stands apart from many similar projects because of his focus on developing a national and international model for retaining undergraduate students in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields. Through this initiative, Warner targets underperforming students, often from underrepresented groups, and provides them with support structures that help them navigate the path from a mindset of failure and helplessness to one of empowerment and success.
“We identify these students and provide them with support, positive research experiences and academic interventions that empower them to transform their academic careers,” said Warner. “By infusing our mentoring program with both research and education, we raise the likelihood that these skills will be retained by participating students and that their chances of success are increased dramatically.”
Warner’s model focuses on structuring the way that students learn science at early and late stages of education and developing a vehicle for extending the mentoring efforts of a single individual such that the impact of that individual can be magnified exponentially.
“Our program has been exceptionally successful so far, which is why I’m so proud that HHMI saw fit to extend it for a third phase,” said Warner. “We have several new methods and projects we plan to undertake, including international outreach partnering with Dr. Randy Duran’s group and the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa, and a mentoring initiative with the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, with the end goal being to develop a national and international model for transforming STEM undergraduate education.”
LSU and HHMI work together in many other ways. Recently, two LSU students were named 2010 EXROP, or EXceptional Research Opportunities Program, scholars.
Shan’Terika Remo and Nathalie Malcolm, both OSI/LA-STEM research scholars and mentees of Warner’s, were chosen from 78 students nationwide to participate in EXROP, a component of HHMI’s Undergraduate Science Education Program, provides summer research experiences to talented undergraduates in the labs of HHMI investigators and professors.
Remo, a native of Mansfield, La., is a senior majoring in chemistry. She will spend the summer working in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Green at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, studying the transcription regulation of human embryonic stem cells. Green investigates the role of gene expression in various human disease states to determine how normal cells become cancerous which could lead to possible new treatment options.
Malcolm, a native of Baton Rouge, is a junior majoring in biochemistry. She will work this summer in the laboratory of Dr. Constance Cepko at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. She will study gene mutations that can cause glaucoma and other retinal diseases. Cepko is pioneering studies into retinal cell fate choice during development of the central nervous system.
Students chosen to participate in the program conduct research in the laboratories of HHMI Investigators and Professors for a minimum of 10 weeks at institutions nationwide. In addition, the students attend meetings at the HHMI headquarters to present their research in a poster session and have the opportunity to interact with their peers, HHMI scientists and scientific researchers from various backgrounds.
In an unusual step that would bring together the sciences and the arts in a tangible way, LSU Press and HHMI representatives have begun conversations that could lead to the development of viewbooks, both print and online, which would document HHMI student researchers and faculty experiences, as well as parental accounts of the impact such programs have had on their college-going children.
LSU’s other HHMI efforts include the BIOS Boot Camp for incoming freshmen, which has been used as a model for training STEM undergraduate students by universities across the country; Scope-on-a-Rope, the K-12 educational outreach program that brings microscopy down to a students’ level; and the HHMI-LSU Summer Research Program, which will broaden to many departments across campus and extend to 12 weeks gives opportunities for eligible undergraduate students in the life sciences.
“As you can see, LSU’s partnership with HHMI has brought about some fascinating and unparalleled opportunities for students at the university,” said Duran. “With this as a precedent, who knows what’s in store for the next 21 years?”
HHMI, a nonprofit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies, plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States. The Institute spent $730 million for research and distributed $101 million in grant support for science education in fiscal year 2009.
• HHMI http://www.hhmi.org
• HHMI-LSU Summer Research http://www.biology.lsu.edu/hhmiprog/undergrad/index.html
• Scope-on-a-Rope http://www.scopeonarope.lsu.edu/
• Biology Intensive Orientation for Students, or BIOS http://bios.lsu.edu/