If it sounds a little like an academic version of the Marine Corps, that's not far off. Give Winston Anderson a few good science undergraduates, he says, and in five years Howard University will have turned out 100 research-bound biomedical graduates with skills honed through intensive laboratory training in cutting-edge disciplines.
Anderson's goal is to give science students studying at Howard a "competitive edge" in entering biomedical research fields. At present, he adds, despite excellent teaching faculties and a large number of science majors at most HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), "students cannot be adequately trained at our institutions because of lack of resources."
To address these shortcomings, Anderson has framed an ambitious HHMI professor proposal. Each year, he will handpick 20 juniors and seniors from a pool of honors science undergraduates. They'll be mentored by active researchers; do summer stints at universities and research centers such as the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York; and publish papers in peer-reviewed journals. Some will participate in summer exchange programs to African countries to study infectious and tropical diseases, principally in Mali, which has a thriving malaria and HIV/AIDS research center.
"If you provide these core units, identify the students early, and get them trained the right way, then they can be competitive, and that's what this program is about," Anderson says. While the research community in general remains concerned about flagging interest in science among high school and college students, "we don't have a problem at Howard," he notes. "We have 700 science majors," 1 in 10 of the 7,000 undergraduates at the urban university.
To make sure the academic pipeline to graduate and medical school stays filled, Anderson also plans to see that introductory courses in cell, developmental, and molecular biology and microbiology are upgraded to prepare honors sophomores for entry into the junior/senior honors research program. To provide the infrastructure to support these improvements, he will lead Howard in establishing core research laboratories with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in computational mathematics, biophysics, genomics, proteomics, basic cell biology, and molecular biology.
Born in Jamaica, Anderson has combined a highly productive research career with a long track record of working to improve science education opportunities for minority students. As principal investigator of the National Science Foundation's Research Careers for Minority Scholars program, Anderson exposed 200 science and math students to contemporary research methods and facilities. He also heads the Fogarty International Center's Minority International Research Program, supporting the global training of minorities in the biomedical sciences.