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Intensive, Multidisciplinary Laboratory Training for Undergraduates

Research Summary

Winston Anderson's Howard Hughes Medical Research Scholars program selects talented science and math majors and immerses them in a research-intensive, mentored curriculum designed to give them a competitive edge for pursuing PhD degrees in the biomedical and related sciences. New initiatives will upgrade the science and mathematics curricula, incorporate more interdisciplinary courses, and offer double majors.

Howard University, a historically black university, is the leading producer of undergraduates from underrepresented minority groups who go on to pursue doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. To build on this track record, we established the Howard Hughes Medical Research Scholars (HHMRS) program in 2006 with my HHMI professor funding. This research-intensive initiative is designed to attract more Howard premed students to research careers and give them a competitive edge when applying to top-tier graduate schools. From 2006 to 2008, 16 students joined the program. During the second grant, 2008-2013, 25 students joined.

We identify the brightest freshman and sophomore honors science students and place them in research courses and apprenticeships in Howard research laboratories. The students attend workshops at Howard and several partner universities on contemporary biomedical research topics. A monthly seminar series with Nobel laureates and other distinguished scientists enables students to meet leading scientists in STEM fields. The students are also encouraged to present papers and posters at national meetings, such as the American Society for Cell Biology and the American Society for Microbiology.

We have formed alliances with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to provide opportunities for HHMRS scholars to spend summers in top research labs. In addition, scholars can join exchange programs that allow them to study infectious and tropical diseases at universities in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Tasmania, and Thailand.

With our new grant (2008-2013), we continued to identify and recruit talented freshmen and sophomores for the natural sciences (biology, mathematics, chemistry departments) and from the chemical engineering department and placed them on an accelerated research and curricular pathway. HHMRS biology majors will be expected to minor in chemistry or mathematics, while chemistry, mathematics, and physics majors will be encouraged to minor or double-major in biology.

HHMRS students were encouraged to enroll in new interdisciplinary courses that emphasize problem solving and critical thinking and convey the connections between the disciplines. We anticipated that the emphasis on mathematics and computational biology would increase students' competitiveness when applying for graduate school. We will continue efforts to incorporate computational instruction in beginning biology courses. We emphasized enrollment in the MIT Quantitative Biology program. We continued our association with MIT, Cornell, and other top research universities and expanded the summer research opportunities for HHMRS students on those campuses.

We think that first-rate teaching will go far to increase the number of underrepresented minority students pursuing graduate degrees in the biomedical sciences. So we will hold molecular biology workshops for Howard's STEM faculty and offer short- and long-term courses at Howard taught by STEM scientists from Cornell and other universities on genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and other topics. We also plan to deliver STEM instruction and research opportunities to students in science high schools on Washington, D.C. and in the Howard University Middle School of Science.

With the second term of funding for the HHMRS program, we designed, tested, and implemented a 12-point mentoring plan to significantly increase the quality and quantity of the STEM undergraduates for entrance to doctoral and MD/PhD programs at research-intensive universities nationwide. The summer research enhancement traineeships were expanded to Wisconsin, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, Harvard, MIT, Yale University, Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. HHMRS scholars gained valuable hands-on research experience in cutting-edge research topics. Several students benefited from HHMI’s (Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP).

Taking the 2006-08, and 2008-13 together, the program exceeded pre-defined measurable objectives by yielding a 90 percent retention and matriculation rate with 28 successful graduates (this was 15 percent greater than anticipated). Of those successful candidates: a) Four are in MD/PhD programs at Cornell, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, and the University of Maryland, b) Four students are currently enrolled in doctoral programs respectively at Columbia University, Rockefeller University, University of Pennsylvania, and Baylor University.

In 2013, Nicole Ramsey successfully defended her dissertation at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and Daniel Gilmer defended his dissertation at the Rockefeller University in March 2014. All four doctoral students have several peer-reviewed publications, c) Four completed medical school and are practicing physicians and/or in residency, and d) Six students are currently enrolled in medical schools at Howard, Yale, Tulane, and Vanderbilt. Of the 10 postgraduates not in graduate or professional school, three are in postbaccalaureate programs preparing for transition into doctoral graduate programs, three are in NIH Intramural Research Raining Award programs, and four dropped out of the program. Of the nine students currently in the program six will graduate in May 2014, and three are undergraduates in years three and four of the program. Underpinning the program was the invaluable mentoring experience and research skills provided by committed faculty mentors from natural science and engineering departments at Howard University. HHMRS students made oral and poster presentations at national scientific conferences and at local high schools. The Howard University HHMI SEA Phages program has its origin in the HHMRS professors award.

Collectively, these successful experiences, coupled with extensive literature review of efforts to reshape undergraduate curriculum and internal evaluation of our current educational curriculum, have provided a framework to build an innovative biology program at Howard University.

My major concern with the program is that a significant number of highly qualified students that benefited from apprenticeships in the best laboratories at tier-one universities, chose not to transition to graduate or professional schools, but rather to take a year off before further studies.

Research in the Anderson Lab

We have identified estrogen-induced proteins, including endogenous peroxidase and cathepsin, as biochemical marker proteins for cancers and normal tissues containing estrogen receptors. Our research has focused on the subcellular localization of signal transduction activity for proto-oncogene proteins, growth factors, and growth factor receptors, and “cross talk between estrogen and growth factors “ in uterine endometrium and breast cancer cell lines. We have established co-cultures of prostate cancer cells and osteoblasts on a collagen matrix to understand the disease’s pathophysiology, metastasis of prostate cancer cells toward bone, and the regulatory roles of bone matrix proteins, other growth factors, binding proteins, and proteases.

Last updated May 2014

Scientist Profile

HHMI Professor
Howard University
Cell Biology, Structural Biology