Auburn University awarded $1.5 million National Institutes of Health grant to broaden student participation in biomedical sciences

Historic prestigious five-year training grant is first ever for university
Published: May 18, 2021 | Updated: May 19, 2021
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Auburn University has been awarded a prestigious $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, to broaden participation in the sciences for traditionally underrepresented students and diversify the pool of scientists earning doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences.

The five-year training award—a Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement, or G-RISE, grant—is administered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the NIH. Auburn’s program will be titled G-RISE at Auburn University and will begin with the selection of four scholars for the fall 2021 semester.

The G-RISE program is designed to develop a diverse pool of scientists earning a doctorate who have the skills to successfully transition into careers in the biomedical research workforce. Programmatic activities are focused on recruiting, admitting and supporting highly qualified students yearly from underrepresented groups through multiple mechanisms, with common threads of inclusive excellence and mentoring initiatives.

Given the history of racial inequities and the demographic composition of the region, G‐RISE at Auburn will focus on students from first-generation, low-income, African American, Latino/a and American Indian backgrounds in recruiting efforts, but will welcome all applicants from traditionally underrepresented communities.

Funds from the grant will offset the cost of stipends, tuition and fees and training related expenses, including health insurance, for the appointed trainees in accordance with the approved NIH support levels. Auburn’s program will admit additional students each successive year, based on funding availability. NIH G-RISE Scholars—who must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents—will be fully supported for up to three years, after which funding support will be based on application for funding through other Auburn funding avenues.

Auburn’s grant proposal team consisted of veterinarian Dr. Bruce Smith, an Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine professor and director of the Auburn University Research Initiative for Cancer, Dr. Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost, Auburn University Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and Dr. Melody Russell, professor of science education and assistant department head of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching. Smith serves as a faculty fellow for the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and will serve as lead principal investigator for the project, with Clayton and Russell serving as co-principal investigators. Smith, Clayton and Russell also are members of Auburn’s Presidential Task Force for Opportunity and Equity.

“Our goal is to provide an environment in which highly talented Ph.D. students will be able to excel,” said Smith, who earned doctorates in veterinary medicine and genetics from the University of Pennsylvania. “The excellent faculty, high level of research and Auburn’s commitment to this program were all recognized as strengths. This award reflects the ongoing efforts of an outstanding team, and faculty from all over Auburn University have stepped forward to offer to be mentors for the outstanding students who will join this program.”

The program also will provide a variety of additional benefits, such as professional development in diversity, equity and inclusion for faculty mentors. Unique to the program is the mentoring model, which is implemented as a “mentoring constellation” and designed to enhance the graduate education experience, mentee/mentor relationships and prepare program participants for success in careers as biomedical scientists.

“We are on a continual quest at Auburn to ensure our students are given the best possible opportunity to succeed,” said Clayton, who has more than two decades of experience as an executive administrator leading diversity and inclusion efforts at major universities. “The funding from this grant helps ensure future scientists from Auburn will be of a more diverse background and bring different perspectives and experiences to complex matters in the biomedical sciences profession.”

The broader impacts will prepare traditionally underrepresented graduate students for careers as biomedical scientists and diversify the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, workforce. NIH G-RISE scholars will collaborate with researchers and conduct their own research in the biomedical sciences.

“This NIH G-RISE T32 project is well-aligned with my research on promoting pathways to careers in STEM for traditionally underrepresented groups,” said Russell, an Auburn professor since 2002. “I am very excited about this project, the collaboration with Dr. Clayton and Dr. Smith and the potential impact of this work on diversifying the biomedical sciences.”

The training activities that will be supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health are under Award Number T32GM141739. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Interested students can find more information about applying for the G-RISE at Auburn program by reviewing this information sheet.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.