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$1.5 Million Grant Will Bolster Underrepresented Student Populations in Biomedical Sciences

An intercollegiate team led by Boise State University has been awarded a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to bolster the number of underrepresented community college students who are transferring to Boise State to pursue research careers in the biomedical sciences.

The five-year grant will be used to fund the Southwestern Idaho Bridges to the Baccalaureate (SWID B2B) program, with the goal of creating an enduring undergraduate research program in Idaho that supports both the transition of underrepresented students from the College of Western Idaho (CWI) community college into biomedical degree programs at Boise State University and their successful graduation. The principal investigators (PIs) for this grant are Cheryl Jorcyk, professor of biological sciences and director of clinical/translational research at Boise State University, and Steve Lysne, professor of life sciences at CWI. Co-PIs include Troy Rohn, a Boise State professor of biological sciences, and the chair of the life sciences department at CWI, Nicole Frank.

“This particular grant has several goals, among them to give underrepresented students the preparation, tools and support networks necessary to succeed at Boise State in biomedical-related majors,” Jorcyk explained.

Underrepresented students include first-generation college students, rural Americans, Pell-eligible students, veterans and individuals with disabilities, as well as underrepresented minority groups including Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans.

“According to our research, at CWI, somewhere between 80-85 percent of students who would potentially have interest in biomedical careers come from an underrepresented group,” Jorcyk said. “Part of that is that Idaho is extremely rural and there’s not a lot of support helping these students transition beyond community college.”

The grant has three main objectives: getting under-represented students prepared for Boise State and involved in the program with enhanced advising/mentoring – which means training CWI advisors and introducing each CWI student to a Boise State student mentor who is studying in the field of biomedical sciences. The grant also will help fund ethics, cell biology and genetics classes at CWI, as well as a cell/molecular biology lab component.

Then, before transferring to Boise State, students will spend a summer working in a Boise State lab with a cohort of nine other students.

“We’re going to pay them to work in the lab. They’ll get experience that first summer performing research and working with a Boise State faculty mentor, then we have funding for them to work in the lab that first academic year as well,” Jorcyk said. “In total, they’ll get paid for lab work for up to two summers and the year in between.”

Finally, students will take classes together at Boise State as part of a cohort. “We have funding for them their third year to be a peer-mentor to other students at CWI,” said Jorcyk. Funds also have been set aside to send students to national conferences to round out their research experience.

While bridge grants are common funding mechanisms for NIH, Boise State’s bridge grant is exceptional for several reasons – it’s the first bridge grant awarded in the state of Idaho, the grant aims to help students from every underrepresented group, instead of focusing on a single group, and it has an ambassador component.

“The ambassadors are faculty at CWI who will reach out to every eligible CWI student individually and tell them about the program as an innovative means of recruiting,” Jorcyk explained. “Getting this grant has been a huge collaborative effort between Boise State and CWI; it’s pretty amazing and it was really a team effort.”