November 08, 2013

SI Bridges aims to help disadvantaged students

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale soon will host a new program aimed at helping disadvantaged students in biomedical and behavioral science research successfully complete their educations.

The five-year SI Bridges program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a partnership of SIU, John A. Logan College and Shawnee Community.  It will help address disparities in post-secondary education access and success for disadvantaged students, including underrepresented minorities, students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged.

“SI Bridges aligns elegantly with SIU’s mission due to its focus on undergraduate research and outreach to diverse populations,” said Karen Renzaglia, professor of plant biology and director of the SI Bridges program.  “Students gain valuable information and exposure that enhances their chances of success at SIU and beyond.

The SI Bridges program is interdisciplinary and draws on the expertise and mentoring skills of faculty in the SIU School of Medicine as well as three SIU colleges: Science, Liberal Arts and Education and Human Services.

“By providing paid and carefully mentored research training experiences for students in the program, SI Bridges will contribute to a new generation of highly skilled and highly competitive professionals in (those areas of) research,” said James Gray, project specialist in the College of Science.

Researchers in biomedical and behavioral sciences can follow a variety of career paths, including working as biologists, psychologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, educators and more.    

Officials hope the program strengthens the university’s outreach and recruitment efforts in the region and raises awareness of career opportunities in behavioral and biomedical science research.

SI Bridges will also strengthen ongoing collaborations among the partnering institutions. About 15 students will participate each year while enrolled at one the two community college partners. Over the course of two years, each scholar will develop research skills through seminars, courses and group research efforts and also participate in faculty-mentored research at SIU.

Students will then matriculate to SIU, where they will graduate and enter careers or post-baccalaureate programs involving research in biomedical or behavioral science, Gray said.

One highlight of the program is the Summer Research Institute, an eight-week intensive experience that engages students in cutting edge developmental molecular neuroscience research.        “Bridges students will be highly trained and competitive for positions in biomedical and behavioral science research through such experiences,” says Andrew Sharp, assistant professor of anatomy and SI Bridges principal investigator.

“The program will cultivate vast, untapped talent found in rural Southern Illinois,” Gray added.  “The quality and quantity of talented, enthusiastic young people who dream of solving today’s most pressing human health challenges far exceeded our expectations.”

The first year of funding from NIH totals almost $247,000 for program expenses.

Students at John A. Logan College and Shawnee Community College who are enrolled full-time may apply to the program. 

Program administrators are seeking disadvantaged but academically competitive students who are interested in pursuing biomedical and behavioral science research training. Students should have high school grade point average of at least 2.75 and a 2.8 GPA for any community college work already completed.

“As these qualifications are complex, we encourage all interested students to contact program staff for clarification,” Gray said. Potential applicants should visit the website to find out more information.