CSUN granted $3.7 Million by National Institutes of Health to develop future scientists

Braulio Campos

CSUN was awarded over $3.7 million in August to fund a program that encourages students from minority and underrepresented communities to complete doctoral programs.

Most if not all of the money will go to students in the Minority Biomedical Research Support Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS RISE) program, which pairs students with CSUN researchers.

“A person’s socioeconomic standing determines (their) health, but more importantly, (their) access to education,”said Maria Elena Zavala, director of the program and CSUN biology professor.

Zavala said she is concerned with the statistics involving education and minority students.

One in 10 members of underrepresented communities complete college, compared to the one in four members of Anglo and Asian communities that earn a degree, she said.

Student dropout rate for doctoral programs is near 40 percent, according to the Council of Graduate School’s Ph. D.Completion Project Report.

These rates are higher for women and minorities, estimated to be around 50 percent, Zavala said.

Steven Oppenheimer, director of the summer MBRS program, said the the selection process is a very rigorous procedure, because the program yields results.

“Fifty percent of all Ph.D. students earn their degree, 30 percent of minority Ph.D. students earn their degree,” Oppenheimer said. “But 85 percent of MBRS students go on to complete their Ph.D. program.”

CSUN’s Undergraduate research program will be financially compensated for their contribution, and graduate students will receive tuition remission in addition to compensation.

In addition to funding, students in the program will be mentored by science, mathematics, health and human development, and social and behavioral science professors, because drop outs lack more than just financial support, according to the  completion report.

The MBRS RISE program will receive the $3.7 million grant over five years, and Zavala said it is worth the investment.  It will support 20 undergraduate and six graduate students.

Students are selected from admission records, screened for the appropriate majors and underrepresented or minority backgrounds. The program requires students maintain a 2.8 GPA.