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$2 million grant to support underrepresented students pursuing biomedical careers

For Immediate Release Feb 14, 2023

An IUPUI program that helps students from underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged groups pursue careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences has received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Six students sitting on a bench The 2022 IPREP fellows, from left, are Andres Prieto Trujillo, Selena Martinez, Ceouna Hegwood, Lorimar Robledo Gonzalez, Rieanna McPhie and Eriel Wise.

Since 2014, the IUPUI Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program, or IPREP, has delivered mentorship and other support to 45 students from underrepresented minorities — as well as six more students who are currently enrolled. The new NIH award will ensure the program remains consecutively funded into its 15th year.

Of the 45 students to complete the program, 91 percent have been admitted to Ph.D. or master’s degree programs and 84 percent have been admitted to Ph.D. or MD/Ph.D. programs at prestigious research-intensive universities across the nation, including IU graduate programs.

“IU’s campuses — as well as the broader academic community — benefit from the injection of greater diversity in the faculty and professional ranks, along with the infusion of talent and fresh thinking this brings to these disciplines,” said Rafael E. Bahamonde, director of IPREP and founding dean and professor of kinesiology at the IU School of Health and Human Sciences at IUPUI. “We’re thankful to the NIH for continuing their support of this important initiative, which provides students from underrepresented minority populations the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees in areas of great national importance and societal impact.”

“The renewal of federal funding for IPREP once again demonstrates NIH’s confidence in IUPUI’s dedication to ensuring diverse individuals are provided with exceptional training to access doctoral education,” said Janice Blum, IUPUI Chancellor’s Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and dean of the IU Graduate School Indianapolis. “This support will help our students move into careers as scientists and innovators in biomedical research and education.”

Student who enroll at IUPUI as IPREP fellows get access to an intensive research internship with a rigorous and individualized academic, professional and personal development plan — with the goal of acceptance into prestigious graduate programs and successful professional careers.

The students also receive 12 months’ paid research experience with outstanding faculty research mentors across the IUPUI campus.

“IPREP introduced me to the field of kinesiology, where I could conduct research to help improve patients’ physical function,” said Shaquitta Dent, a Ph.D. student at the School of Health and Human Sciences. “My IPREP mentors gave me hands-on experience and structured guidance throughout the program. It really gives you an advantage in gaining research experience, graduate record exam preparation and professional development.”

Andres Prieto Trujillo, also an IPREP fellow, said the program addresses the personal as well as the professional, such as lessons on personal finances — including budgeting, health care and investing for retirement — as well as mock interview training, which he said provided him confidence during the graduate school interview process.

“IPREP allowed me to explore a new area of research, a new career path and a new area of the country,” said Jared Smith, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the IU School of Medicine who joined IUPUI as an IPREP fellow. “IPREP not only gives students like me the ability to explore new areas, it also allows students of color to gain confidence in a lab setting environment — to know we belong and can do everything we set our minds to do.”

Over the life of the program, IPREP fellows have produced more than 20 research publications and more than 50 research presentations. Several fellows have also received prestigious awards, including five Graduate Research Scholarship Programs Awards from the National Science Foundation and a Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship from the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

Over the next five years of the grant, Bahamonde said, IPREP will focus on preparing students for careers in six key areas: basic medical sciences, clinical psychology, neuroscience (including addiction neuroscience), human performance, biomedical engineering and artificial intelligence.

Additional IPREP leaders include Randall Roper, a professor of biology at the School of Science at IUPUI, who serves as the program’s co-primary investigator, and Ann Kimble-Hill, an assistant research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, who serves as IPREP program coordinator.

Other contributors include Blum, who is also associate vice chancellor for Graduate Education at IUPUI, Kim Nguyen, director of statewide and regional collaborations at the STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute at IUPUI; Tabitha Hardy, assistant Dean for student development and academic affairs at the IU Graduate School Indianapolis; Dominque Galli, director of biomedical sciences and associate professor at the IU School of Dentistry; Jose Espada, director of financial aid at IU School of Medicine; and Michele Hansen, former assistant vice chancellor for institutional research and decision support at IUPUI.

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