The University of Toledo has received a five-year, $2.6 million training grant from the National Institutes of Health for a program aimed at training doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds and preparing them for future careers in biomedical research.
The Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement, or G-RISE, is a nationally recognized training program administered by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
The program covers students’ tuition and fees, stipend, health insurance and provides funding for annual conference travel and other training-related expenses.
Dr. Mahasin A. Osman, associate professor of medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, oversees the grant and is leading the G-RISE program at UToledo.
“The demographics are changing in the United States and if we are going to remain competitive on the global stage, we need to ensure we’re providing opportunities for all of our citizens, not just those who have traditionally made up the scientific ranks,” Osman said. “Leveraging our wide expertise in medical and biomedical research, we will be building a pipeline that increases not only the diversity of our institution, but also our scientific workforce.”
Faculty from 10 separate biomedical programs within the colleges of Medicine, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences are participating in the interdisciplinary program.
The G-RISE program takes a multifaceted and innovative approach to training scholars, starting with a summer boot camp to sharpen laboratory skills and build camaraderie with faculty and peers.
Students will spend their first year at UToledo rotating through the labs of three participating faculty members in order to choose a specific program and dissertation mentor.
Through their training, students will participate in workshops aimed at developing critical academic and soft skills, as well as sharpening leadership and communication skills, Osman said.
One of the program’s primary goals is steering students toward translational research rather than exclusively basic science.
“Leveraging the environment of UToledo’s medical campus, the program will expose trainees to translational research in health disparities, health equity and biomarker discovery to better equip them for careers with significant impacts on the unique health-related research needs of underserved communities and the nation,” she said.
In addition to their earning their Ph.D., students will receive training in bioinformatics and earn a Certificate in Biomarker and Bioinformatics to better equip them for positions at the forefront of the biomedicine field.
UToledo expects to enroll four students per grant year into the program, with the first cohort beginning this summer.
“One of the core pieces of this program is the ongoing support our faculty members have committed to providing the students,” Osman said. “Many of these students have already overcome barriers to get where they are. We want to ensure they have all the resources and support they need to complete their doctoral degree and enter the workforce as well-rounded, highly skilled scientists.”
The G-RISE program is focused on groups underrepresented in biomedical sciences, including individuals with disabilities, individuals from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds and first-generation college students.
The UToledo G-RISE program also is partnering with eight minority-serving undergraduate institutions with NIH-supported research training programs to assist in recruitment.
UToledo is one of 14 universities in the country currently funded through the T32 G-RISE program.
“This prestigious award positions UToledo within a league of elite universities,” Osman said, “but more importantly it enriches our cultural and academic environment, promotes more collaboration across our two campuses and provides real opportunity for underrepresented students to receive top-tier training and empower their communities.”
Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, professor of biological sciences in the UToledo College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Dr. Lance Dworkin, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences; and Dr. Robert Smith, professor and chair of the Department Neurosciences in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, are the other investigators on the NIH grant.