Rice part of NIH diversity consortium

Will host University of Texas at El Paso students in multiyear summer program 

Rice University will take part in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative to prepare regionally underrepresented minorities to seek careers in the biomedical sciences.

NIH Director Francis Collins announced 12 first-year awards worth a total of $31 million in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 22, including a grant to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), which has partnered with Rice and other institutions to put students on track toward biomedical careers over the next five years.

Jane Grande-Allen

Jane Grande-Allen

Rice will be host to a summer program for as many as five students a year from UTEP and its partner institutions. The students will be assigned faculty mentors for the summer and will work in their labs to learn scientific investigation techniques. The students will be housed on campus.

Jane Grande-Allen, a faculty adviser to Rice President David Leebron, has worked with UTEP to organize the summer program, which will be administered at Rice by the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering. Grande-Allen, a professor in Rice’s Department of Bioengineering, which was recently ranked No. 5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, said the students from the summer program are likely to represent Native American and Hispanic populations served by UTEP and its neighbors.

“NIH wants UTEP to identify promising students there and in nearby institutions in the Southwest, many of which are community colleges,” Grande-Allen said. “They will do research at UTEP, where they can be mentored, gain important experience and engage in the undergraduate research process. After that, they will go to partner institutions, including Rice, for a summer research program.”

Topics at Rice may include cancer, chronic disease, degenerative disease, addiction, translational biomedicine and environmental health research.

“The mentors will make sure the students get a lot of personal and professional development experiences in addition to the research experience,” Grande-Allen said. “We will help them learn about getting into graduate school and make sure they’re educated about a diverse range of careers. Ultimately, the intent is for them to go all the way through and get a Ph.D. or M.D.”

Along with Grande-Allen, Rice faculty who have stepped up to work as mentors include Caleb Kemere, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dan Wagner, associate professor of biochemistry and cell biology; Loren Raun, a faculty fellow of statistics; Amina Qutub, an assistant professor of bioengineering; Laura Segatori, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Cindy Farach-Carson, the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.

UTEP’s initiative, called Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity: Southwest Consortium of Health-Oriented Education Leaders and Research Scholars, will partner with institutions in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, including Rice and Baylor College of Medicine.

The NIH grants kick off its Diversity Program Consortium, which includes three initiatives. The largest, Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), is a set of experimental training awards to learn to attract students from diverse backgrounds into the biomedical research workforce. NIH chose 10 institutions, including UTEP, to host BUILD programs.

The other initiatives are the National Research Mentoring Network, a national network of mentors and mentees, and the Coordination and Evaluation Center, which will coordinate the consortium’s activities.

“The biomedical research enterprise must engage all sectors of the population in order to solve the most complex biological problems and discover innovative new ways to improve human health,” Collins said. “While past efforts to diversify our workforce have had significant impact on individuals, we have not made substantial progress in expanding diversity on a larger scale. This program will test new models of training and mentoring so that we can ultimately attract the best minds from all groups to biomedical research.”




About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.