Winter 2019
NIH program at UNR Med provides pathway to breaking ‘educational ceiling’

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Researchers and students working

Left: Nevada State College students spend time in the lab. From left: Sarai Guevara, Kimberly Miranda and Jeremy Shane Vergara. Photo: Aster Sigel Right: Nevada State College student Jacob Newby (right) explains his work to a poster symposium attendee Oct. 4, 2017. Photo: Ian Probasco

By Roseann Langlois

For underrepresented rural college students like Krystianna Kellum, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) program housed at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine is not just a game-changer-it's a life-changer.

"This has made my education possible," said Kellum, a senior studying biological science at Great Basin College (GBC) in Elko, Nevada, who is participating in a four-year cohort with the program. "The experience has been absolutely incredible. I do not know how to properly convey the amount of gratitude I have for Nevada INBRE and those who have made all of this possible."

Over the summer, Kellum, a first-generation college student, completed a program that combines research and lab work at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) and UNR Med through the Nevada IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), an NIH program designed to assist traditionally underfunded states build academic biomedical infrastructure. Nevada INBRE also collaborates with Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) partner institutions to promote biomedical research knowledge and educational opportunities across the state of Nevada via biomedical and science pipeline programs.

Kellum typically juggles a job within the medical field in conjunction with her coursework at GBC. Thanks to the summer program and tutoring students, she was able to focus solely on her study efforts-which she hopes will lead to medical school.

Undergraduates from all NSHE institutions are eligible for the Nevada INBRE Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program-a 10-week research experience in a faculty laboratory where students have the opportunity to work on authentic research projects. These INBRE summer research experiences enrich the students' science education, allowing them to gain first-hand knowledge about a scientific career, and provides a competitive edge for graduate, medical school and job applicants. These projects often lead to longer-term collaborations, publishable research and careers in medicine and biomedical research.

"The significance of these programs cannot be overstated," says UNR Med Department of Pharmacology Interim Chair and INBRE Principal Investigator Josh Baker, Ph.D. "The vast majority of underrepresented students begin their academic careers at community colleges, and their success improves when they are given research opportunities. This translates directly to our success at subsequently enrolling them as students."

Funded by a $17 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Nevada INBRE is in its 16th year at UNR Med and is focused on building upon the momentum and infrastructure developed during the first 10 years. This infrastructure would include new programs based on NIH initiatives in clinical translational research, as well as other programs designed to encourage high school and undergraduate college students to pursue degrees in the sciences.

"This type of collaborative effort between TMCC, GBC and UNR Med, and the many dedicated, compassionate INBRE-supported faculty at these institutions, creates the network-the 'N'-in INBRE," Baker said. "We have similar networks in southern Nevada and successful networks between north and south."

"My entire goal has been to break through a ceiling of educational mediocrity that has been in place for generations," Kellum said. "I will graduate with a bachelor's in biological science, which is something that likely would not have happened if this program was not in place."

Undergraduates from all NSHE institutions are eligible for the Nevada INBRE Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program-a 10-week research experience in a faculty laboratory where students have the opportunity to work on authentic research projects.