One of the greatest opportunities open to students in the College of Science is the chance to become involved in research at the undergraduate level. Many students who choose to work in the labs of one of the college’s world-class professors end up as authors on papers published in top peer reviewed journals, and many give presentations at local, national, and international meetings. Today I will highlight just a few recent accomplishments of our research students.
Each year, a group of students from SJSU attend the International meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). At this year’s meeting, held in San Antonio this fall, Biology student Jodie Wu won an outstanding poster award, and recent physics graduate Patricio Piedra received an outstanding oral presentation award.
At the fall ABRACAMS Meeting (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students), 27 SJSU students presented, and six of them were selected by judges for awards. They are Beatriz Camacho (Chemistry), David Carrillo (Biological Sciences), Marc Gancayco (Chemistry), Vanessa Jimenez (Biological Sciences), Cindy Martinez (Psychology) and Jacob Schekman (Chemistry). All of these students are participants in one of the college’s three programs aimed at supporting students from underserved backgrounds – MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers), RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement), and LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation). Another MARC student, Diana Romero, working in the lab of SJSU microbiologist Cleber Ouverney, received a prestigious undergraduate capstone award from the American Society of Microbiologists. For the last three years, SJSU has led the CSU system in the number of awardees (6-7 each year) of NSF predoctoral fellowships, which fully support a student’s graduate studies at the research university of their choice.
This proud record of student success would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of a dedicated core of faculty, including Karen Singmaster (Director of SJSU’s RISE and LSAMP programs and Herb Silber (former MARC director) from Chemistry and Leslee Parr (current MARC Director) from Biology have built these programs over the years, and have, along with other faculty who mentor MARC and RISE research students, have created a supportive environment for students from underserved backgrounds interested in pursuing biomedical research as undergraduates leading into postgraduate study.
The MARC program was recently renewed for another two years, but with a 54% cut in funding relative to the previous cycle. The announcement of these cuts last summer spurred our faculty and students to civic action. A letter-writing campaign to our representatives got the attention of Congressman Mike Honda, a long-time supporter of STEM education. Honda arranged to visit with our MARC students and faculty in September, and a scheduled 30 minute visit stretched to two hours as students and faculty involved in the program shared their successes and aspirations for research careers with the congressman. SJSU has shown that investment in these programs results in dramatic successes in moving students from underserved backgrounds into success as undergraduate researchers, as research students in top graduate programs, and onwards towards careers as STEM leaders of tomorrow. If government funding for these programs continues to decrease, we will need to increasingly look towards corporate and community partners to continue our efforts to help our bright, talented students to reach their full potential.