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by Jennifer Boeth Donnovan
Some of the students in EXROP who met in May at HHMI's headquarters to share ideas and experiences.
DEANNA COCHRAN, 22, is only the third person in her large family to go to college. A biology major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Cochran brought a great deal of enthusiasm but limited laboratory experience when she traveled to Philadelphia to spend the summer of 2004 working in HHMI investigator Amita Sehgal's lab at the University of Pennsylvania.
"She came in not knowing a lot about lab work," Sehgal recalls. "She had not done any research. But that's OK," says Sehgal. "Motivation is much more important. If you really want to diversify the scientific workforce, you need to reach out to students who haven't had research opportunities."
After 10 weeks in Sehgal's lab as a participant in HHMI's Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), Cochran knew how to design an experiment and how to collect data, analyze it, and draw conclusions. She decided that her future lay in science. And she wanted to spend another summer learning more about clinical and translational research, which she did by returning to Sehgal's lab in 2005.
EXROP pairs undergraduates with HHMI investigators and HHMI professors (a group of scientists who received $1 million each from HHMI to make science more engaging for undergraduates). The summer research program is designed to encourage disadvantaged students, including minorities underrepresented in the sciences, to consider careers in science by involving them in research in some of the top labs in the nation. Students are selected by HHMI professors and directors of HHMI-funded undergraduate science education programs.
Over the past three summers, EXROP has matched 141 undergraduates with 115 HHMI scientists. The students included 52 African Americans, 34 of Hispanic origin, 2 Native Americans, and 36 others of non-Caucasian or multiethnic background. Nearly 80 percent of them now say they plan to study for a Ph.D. or an M.D.-Ph.D. when they finish their bachelor's degrees, and another 13 percent want to go to medical school.
"The EX in EXROP could stand for the EXtreme impact on science that we are aiming to achieve," says HHMI President Thomas R. Cech.
Photo: Paul Fetters