BUILD PODER: Equity through research

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CSUN alumnus and BUILD PODER tutor, Carlos Salas Chung (right), offers tutoring services in Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Math through the program. "[Students] are all eager to learn... all the students that I've seen this semester have been perfect in terms of study habits and how prepared they are."

Through the lens of a diverse research force, BUILD PODER is an undergraduate biomedical research program for students within two to three years of graduating. The program supports over 130 students at CSUN and four affiliated community colleges: Los Angeles Valley College, Pierce College, East Los Angeles College and Pasadena City College. It also creates partnerships with CSUN to other research institutions such as UC Irvine, UCLA, UCSD and Claremont Graduate College.

BUILD PODER makes its goals clear: Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, Promoting Opportunities for Diversity in Education and Research.

The program’s research focuses on health disparities, or preventable imbalances in health problems for people in more disadvantaged backgrounds. This concept influences some students’ research topics such as disabilities in ethnic minority groups, childhood obesity prevention and anti-tumor agents. The program also aims to bring diversity to the field of medical research by engaging students from various backgrounds to provide opportunities and career prospects in research.

“Even at [the National Institutes of Health’s] level of researchers, they realized they lacked diversity in their research workforce,” said BUILD PODER’s Communications Coordinator, Hansook Oh. “The consequences of not having a diverse workforce is that the research itself may end up being biased or certain topics may not be researched.”

BUILD PODER was established at CSUN in 2014 through an initiative grant from the NIH to diversify its research force. The driving idea behind diversifying research teams ironically stemmed from the lack of diversity in NIH’s research force.

BUILD PODER aims to provide opportunities and representation in the field of medical research to diverse demographics. This includes, but is not limited to: women, people of color, first generation college students, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and LGBTQ+ students.

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Juniors and Kinesiology majors, Michael Salazar (left), Angelica Alberto (center), and Brian Rios (right) are among many students that are able to receive Science and Math tutoring services through the BUILD PODER program. Photo credit: Arpy Zargarian

“Honestly the program was life-changing. It put everything into perspective career-wise,” fourth-year psychology student Evelyn Santana said. “Along the way they remind us that the work we do is not just for ourselves, but also the people we represent. I’m Mexican. I’m a woman. I’m representing my culture in the sciences.”

BUILD PODER provides a platform in research for students who may have limited access to funds and resources. Since the students involved are often new to research, the program assigns them mentors to teach them about conducting research and to build their skills overall. Among many other benefits, students receive full funding for their research as well as coverage for travel expenses for conferences where they intend to present their research.

“We have the opportunity to do research around the United States. The fact that we get to do that gives us more options for our profession,” third-year biology student Erik Serrano said. “It feels like a kid in a candy store.”

BUILD PODER is accepting applications from now until March 2 at 5 p.m.

The final workshop for the application process will take place on Feb. 27 in Sierra Hall Room 389 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.