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New Mexico State University

 

               Michael Johnson

Chemistry and Biochemistry Department,
College of Arts and Sciences

NMSU Minority Access to Research Careers Program

(November 2, 2012)  New Mexico State University celebrated a program at a recent Research Rally that has been helping minority students receive doctorate degrees in fields of biomedical and behavioral sciences for 35 years – and will continue to do so with a $3.8 million five-year renewal grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The goal of the Minority Access to Research Careers program is to diversify the workforce, impact NMSU curricula toward developing better-trained students to work toward a doctorate and involve undergraduate students in scientific research.  MARC was created in 1975 by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to increase diversity and create a group of research scientists committed to addressing minority health disparities in the U.S.  “The statistics between the number of doctorate degrees that people carry in the health-related fields is far below the percentage of our population,” said Michael Johnson, a NMSU chemistry professor and principal investigator of MARC.  “NIH realized there were minority health disparities that are important and will become more important as the years progress. Concerned NMSU faculty recognized we were well poised to help address these inequities and applied to NIH for MARC funding in 1977.” 

Michael JohnsonIn 2008, the National Science Foundation conducted a survey on the number of doctorates being awarded in the fields of science, engineering and health. They found that in the space of a year, 704,000 doctorates were awarded to Caucasians, 21,000 doctorates were awarded to Hispanics, 22,000 to African Americans, 1,500 to Native Americans and 700 were awarded to Pacific islanders.  “According to 2012 Census Bureau estimations, 50.4 percent of all American children under the age of 1 now belong to minority groups. The prediction is that by 2042, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population,” Johnson said. “The U.S. is changing. The world is changing.” 

Research shows that minorities can face unique health problems. For example, African Americans are more likely to develop and die from certain cancers, and also have a higher chance of having sickle-cell anemia or systemic sclerosis. Hispanic and Vietnamese women are nearly twice as likely of developing cervical cancer, compared to Caucasian women.  Johnson said it is often life experiences that students draw from that motivate them to pursue biomedical research.  “Students are going to be affected by such things as the loss of a loved one or close friend,” he said. “When we are brining along students from these minority groups, they are going to be focused on the things that affect the people who are around them. As the diversity in this country increases, we must morally address these inequities.”

The NMSU MARC program is dedicated to providing its fellows with laboratory experiences in biomedical research, as well as giving them additional classroom experiences in public speaking, writing and preparation to take the Graduate Record Examinations.  To date, MARC has brought $15 million to NMSU. The program has served approximately 300 NMSU students in its 35 years, sending students to prestigious graduate schools and summer research programs at Harvard, Yale, the Mayo Clinic, the Scripps Institute and many more.  “Our students are going out and being successful across the country,” Johnson said. “It is the students and faculty cooperating together that has led to this success.”

The program is eligible to full-time juniors and seniors at NMSU who are committed to receiving a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. They must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and are majoring in animal and range sciences; biochemistry; bioinformatics; biology; chemistry; entomology plant pathology and weed sciences; fishery and wildlife science; genetics; microbiology, molecular biology; or physics. 

- Article by Audry Olmsted; photo by University Communications.  See more at newscenter.nmsu.edu

Project funded through a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. 

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