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Four More Years: NIH to Continue Support of



Laura Robles, acting dean of graduate studies and research and director, MBRS; photo by S

Four More Years: NIH to Continue Support of
Minority Scientists

[Students] get into the lab, they do real work, they see that what they are doing is important. They see that they are important. They become young scientists and realize what they can do.
- Laura Robles, acting dean of graduate studies and research and director, MBRS

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has again funded the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program at CSU Dominguez Hills. It will support 12 CSUDH students at about $320,000 a year for four years, or nearly $1.3 million total.

“We are thrilled to receive this funding,” Laura Robles, acting dean of graduate studies and research as well as MBRS Program director, said when she got the news, “and we appreciate all the support the campus has given us over the years.  You will hear more from us as the program unfolds and as RISE students have great accomplishments!"
The program supports development of the biomedical research potential of underrepresented students from the departments of biology, chemistry, physics and psychology, explains Robles. “Selected students are placed with our faculty who are conducting biomedical research projects, or with faculty from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, or Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.  The students also attend national scientific meetings, where they present their research.”

The grant money, she said, will be used to pay salaries to students for their work in the labs, as well as for travel so students can attend educational conferences and/or present their research. It will also fund a variety of workshops, including bioinformatics, scientific writing, and psychology. Some of the funds will be used to pay expenses for MBRS students to be mentors to members of Latinas Juntas, a group on campus that helps Latinas to network with other students, faculty, and staff in order to retain the students.

MBRS has existed since 1972 and has been on the Dominguez Hills campus since 1977, established under the leadership of Lois Chi, former professor of biological sciences and the first CSUDH faculty member to win the Outstanding Professor Award. The university has had continuous NIH support for MBRS since it was established in 1977. Also, in 2000, the MBRS program was split into various programs, among which was RISE, which has been funded since it was founded at CSUDH in 2001.

About 300 students have gone through the MBRS and MBRS RISE program since 1977, Robles said, 67 of them since the RISE program began.

“I see students come in who are shy, who just don’t talk much and don’t express themselves well,” Robles says, remembering MBRS students past. “Then they get into the lab, they do real work, they see that what they are doing is important. They see that they are important. They become young scientists and realize what they can do.”

The MBRS program has made a difference in the lives of many CSUDH students. One, who is realizing her dream even now when she didn’t know she could have such a dream before becoming part of the MBRS program, is Teresa Ramirez (Class of ’04, B.A. Biology), who is now a post-baccalaureate student at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland:

“As an MBRS and CSUDH alumni I was given many wonderful opportunities that I never thought I would ever experience as a student who grew up and was educated in the city of Compton.  Dr. Laura Robles gave me the opportunity to become part of the MBRS program even when I had no research experience and no knowledge about what biomedical research was all about. 

“From there on,” Ramirez says, “I started to learn new and interesting things about science and I was given the opportunity to travel to different states and countries for student conferences. From being part of this outstanding program and from presenting posters at national conferences, I learned how to present myself as a young professional scientist as well as how to speak in an eloquent manner.  The MBRS program is a program that has made students’ dreams come true, as mine is.  After learning about the NIH and National Cancer Institute, I had a dream of one day being able to contribute to cancer research, and my dream has come true.

“I am so happy and grateful to those who make this program a success and for giving us students the opportunity to explore and learn more about the science field,” Ramirez says.

Another alumna, Veronica Awan, (Class of ‘03, B.A. Psychology), was equally praising: “The MBRS-RISE program is a wonderful opportunity that allows you to meet cutting-edge scientists working in your field of study, attend scientific conferences, and to enhance your graduate school application.” She is, she says, now attending the Master’s in Public Health program in Community Health Sciences at UCLA.

Getting the grants is not easy. In fact, in recent years, it has gotten harder. As Robles explained at the end of the spring semester in 2005 when she landed a $2 million grant for MBRS SCORE [Support of Continuous Research Excellence, another of the components of MBRS created in 2000], “The money going to NIH isn’t as much as it has been in past years. They requested that we cut back in some areas … Times are really tight at the NIH.” 

That makes it even more difficult to land the funding, prompting this missive to be sent out to the campus by Lisa Grey-Shellburg, Academic Resources Development Study, Project Director, Faculty Resources as well as a professor in the Psychology Department: “Congratulations, Laura! It is your vision, leadership, research expertise, and dedication to students that led to the ability of our campus to successfully compete for program funding. Thank you for all the above-the-call-of-duty time and effort you have devoted to securing grants for and directing the RISE program.”

The unavoidable tight-fistedness of the NIH will change nothing in the MBRS program, Robles has said before, and no faculty member is going to back off of what they do for students.

“Doing less or slowing down isn’t an option,” she says. “We’re not going to slow down. We’re going to work harder with fewer people. We have to be [just as] productive.”

- Russell Hudson


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Last updated Friday, May 12, 2006, at 1:45 p.m., by Joanie Harmon