Skip to main content

COH Receives NIH Grant to Coordinate Biomedical Research Placements for Students from Underrepresented Backgrounds

The College of Health has received a R25 educational pathway grant from the National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK). Starting this year, the COH will serve as the coordinating center for the STEP-UP Project, a summer research opportunity project for juniors and seniors in high school.

Only one site would be funded as the coordinating center for Utah’s region, and thanks to the work of Tim Brusseau, PhD and Julie Lucero, PhD, the NIH picked the COH. Brusseau and Lucero applied for the grant and secured more than 30 letters of support for the endeavor. They’ll coordinate students’ placement and run both the eight-week summer program and the nine-month mentorship program.

“Both Tim and I were first-generation college students, so we’re excited to provide opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds,” Lucero said. “This program will allow students to stay close to home, so they don’t have to worry about rent or culture shock. They’ll get the research experience they need and expand their professional networks.”

Julie Lucero and Tim Brusseau
Julie Lucero, PhD and Tim Brusseau, PhD, will be the Region C STEP-UP Coordinators 

Utah’s region, Region C, includes the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas. So far, Brusseau and Lucero had secured agreements with more than 20 sites in the region who are willing to support research students.

“We’ll identify our students and if they get accepted into the program we’re going to try to find a research site in regional proximity,” Brusseau said. “The idea is that they can do research in their home communities.”

The STEP-UP Project will allow up to 25 students to participate in biomedical research in the NIDDK mission areas, working with a PI close to home. They’ll be paid for their summer work and receive a small stipend for the mentorship portion. At the end of the summer, the students will attend a national conference in Bethesda, Md. and present on their research with students from other STEP-UP Programs.

“We’re hoping this will be a form of recruitment for the University of Utah,” Lucero said. “Even though the students live elsewhere they’ll still be connecting with us, and it will make them curious about us.”

The NIH grant funding will run for three years, with the option for a renewal process. This summer Brusseau and Lucero will be focused on creating connections with other institutions and networking to spread the word.

“It will take a full year to get up and operational,” Brusseau said. “We’ve started planning so we can communicate this program widely to high schools and state education offices through the entire region. Next spring we’ll be accepting applications and start placing students.”

Brusseau and Lucero know what it’s like to try and navigate opportunities as a first-generation student. They hope this program will make it easier for students from underrepresented areas to spark a love of research and start careers that make an impact locally and nationally.

“I think back to my experience growing up in a rural area—I was the first high school graduate on one side of my family,” Brusseau said. “I hope this program might open the door for someone like me to get an experience they never thought about.”