Newswise — The University of Illinois Chicago and Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, have teamed up for a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support undergraduate students training in biomedical research during the last two years of their studies.

The Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant will provide two-year traineeships annually to four underrepresented students who transfer to UIC from Malcolm X or one of the other City Colleges of Chicago.

While the students complete their work in a UIC undergraduate degree program, they will also participate as biomedical researchers on projects involving cancer biology and/or population health studies.

“With a focus on cancer research, we will give the students the opportunity to participate in research that also has important implications on health disparities, addressing the need to raise awareness and shift some of the focus of research to be inclusive of the needs of all communities, including those in Chicago,” said Paul Grippo, UIC associate professor of medicine, associate director of career enhancement and education at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, and project co-principal investigator.

An important feature of the program is the deep collaboration with Malcolm X College faculty, such as co-principal investigator Peter Grudzien and project co-investigator Minxiu Wang, who are both assistant professors of biology.  

Grudzien points out that the program is much more than a recruitment effort. 

“With the grant support and the input of the trainees, we will design new curricula materials for use in first- and second-year undergraduate courses, impacting many more students over time,” he said. 

This makes important use of existing initiatives at Malcolm X College, including an introduction to research course taught by Wang.

“We know that the first two years of college are essential in letting students build their identities as scientists, and this program is an exciting way to build a curriculum bridge from research labs at UIC to course-based experiences in our college,” she said.

The new grant builds on work within a previous Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant, led by UIC’s Paula Allen-Meares. That effort, which was funded through a research track within NIH, established important pathways that the new, training-focused program follows.

“I am delighted about how it continues our collaboration with Malcolm X, started in the earlier program,” said Allen-Meares, UIC chancellor emerita, the John Corbally Presidential Professor Emerita, and professor of medicine.

The program aims to include trainees prominently in discussions at both institutions about who is at the center of health and science research and care. Trainees will be given the opportunity to investigate issues of health disparities both in research and in the community.

The program has already identified more than 20 potential mentors for the students from multiple UIC colleges and the cancer center.

“We hope to position the trainees, their communities, and the research at the center of discussions about the value and the impact of cancer research,” said Wink, UIC professor of chemistry and project co-principal investigator.